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Posted: March 29, 2009 12:00 a.m.

Saying farewell

Bravo Company goes to war

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Although thunderstorms blanketed the Covington area Friday afternoon, ruining plans for the soldier send-off on the square, nothing could dampen the spirits of those at the Covington National Guard Armory who gathered to bid farewell to the soldiers of Honor Company B, 1/121st Infantry of the Georgia National Guard’s 48th Brigade.

Family and friends, along with past veterans, politicians and pastors packed the armory for one last big gathering before deployment. The Eastside High School marching band braved the inclement weather to provide music, turning an event that could have easily been a somber affair into a celebration.

"I hope our Newton County family can look after your families while you are away," said Newton County Commissioner District 1 Mort Ewing. "I challenge Newton County to reach out and help these families while their loved ones are away."

For Tangela Mitchell, this will be the fourth time her baby brother, 27-year-old Cpl. Derrick Hood, has left to serve his county.

"It’s hard every time," she said, smiling at her brother, "but at the same time I know that he’s a soldier and I’m so proud of him. I just pray it up," she said with a laugh.

As for Hood, it doesn’t matter that he’s been down this road three times before. According to him, he’s always scared.

"It never becomes something that you just get used to – but this is my job, and I will never hesitate to go if I need to."

Lt. Shilo Crane, company commander, told the audience that the soldiers leaving have endured a year’s worth of training to get themselves ready to head to Afghanistan in May.

"We’re taking the next step on this journey," he said. "But we are not going into Afghanistan as an occupying force; we are not going there to force our will or our religion on the people. We are not trying to make them anything more than what they want to be themselves."

Brig. Gen. Maria Britt reiterated their goals, saying "We are not going over there to conquer, but to liberate and to give the people back their country."

"Not only are we soldiers while we’re there," she continued. "But we are ambassadors for the United States of America."

The common thread in many speeches was for the families left behind to ask for help should they need it and to accept help when it is offered.

"You’ve heard of ‘just say no’?" asked U.S. Congressman Jim Marshall (D-District 8), "Well you need to ‘just say yes.’"

Marshall continued, saying that these soldiers are heading to Afghanistan to do a job that a U.S. Ranger or a Marine could not do – help police and rebuild a society.

"You have us [Rangers and Marines] around to fight. What is needed for this mission is soldiers who are bright and who can help the Afghans take back their country."

Sgt. Ryan Weber, 29, will be part of that group of bright men that heads out, first to Fort Shelby, Miss. then to Afghanistan in May. He leaves behind his wife of seven years, Lindsey, and their 5-year-old son and 5-month-old daughter. Although he has been to Iraq, this will be his first time to the Middle East with this unit.

"It makes it harder when you have children" Lindsey said, "but you do what you have to do. Our son is proud of him and he wants to be just like him. We’re all proud of him."

While Lindsey squares her shoulders and relies on a strong support system of family to help her while her husband is away, Ryan isn’t shy about expressing his despair at leaving his family behind.

"It sucks to have to leave my wife and kids," he said. "Mostly because I know that they keep going on with their lives while mine pauses. It’s a lot easier for me. I have a group of people that I will be with and she’s left on her own with no one to talk to and no one to cry to… That being said," he continued, with a smile, "I wouldn’t change it. I’m here because I want to be."

State Senator John Douglas (R-District 17) presented the commander with a Georgia flag that had been flown, in the unit’s honor, over the state capitol to take with them on their journey.

"Our nation has called," he said, "and we in Georgia have answered that call. And even though you’ll be out there standing alone you will not be. We will be with you all the way. No matter how dark the night in Afghanistan you will never be alone because we’ll be with you all the way."

Brigade chaplain Lt. Col. Mark Alberici, who will travel with the soldiers to Afghanistan, said he had been spending a lot of time speaking with the soldiers and their families encouraging them to pray. He is also encouraging his own family, a wife and three children, to pray as well since this will be his first time in the Middle East.

"It’s hard for everyone," he said. "But ultimately, I think it makes families stronger. It’s part of the job, and we all know that going in. I have been encouraging them to pray, and I will continue to encourage them to do so."

As the program began to wind down, Covington Mayor Kim Carter spoke to the soldiers, calling them all residents of Newton County.

"Our community loves each and every one of you and your family and we pledge to take care of each and every one of you," she said. "I can only hope that this time next year, when you all come home, that it will be a bright and sunny day so we can have a big parade.

"God speed, we love you and thank you very much."

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