Proud but anxious
Storm Lake opened its arms and hearts to 18 Iowa Army National Guardsmen in sendoff ceremonies 10 a.m. Thursday at Storm Lake High School. The Guardsmen are being mobilized as support for the 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry, as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Representatives of Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, U.S. Congressman Steve King, and Gov. Tom Vilsack were on hand as well as Storm Lake Mayor Jon Kruse. The Guardsmen will be deployed to Camp Shelby, Miss., for four months before going to Iraq in January for a one-year tour of duty.
"I'm pretty excited," said Guardsman Louie De Roos of Storm Lake. "It's something I've been trained to do. And they always need mechanics."
Another Storm Lake Guardsman, Rod Saathoff, said this is his second deployment to Iraq.
"This is a great testament to the support you are sharing," said Maj. John Cunningham of the several hundred well-wishers who turned out to say farewell to husbands and fathers and brothers and sons.
Amy Murray, Sen. Tom Harkin's representative from Sioux City, offered warm wishes in her prepared remarks from the senator.
"I only wish that I was able to attend," Murray said for Harkin. "You have all made sacrifices to defend our freedom and protect our values."
Maj. Cunningham read a statement from Gov. Tom Vilsack.
"When the nation calls in our soldiers to serve, our nation gets the very best," Maj. Cunningham related for Vilsack. "Across out state, thousands of Iowans have answered our country's call, like you."
Storm Lake's Mayor Jon Kruse offered thanks to the Guardsmen.
"While you are gone, your community will do all it can to defend those who have sacrificed for you," Kruse said.
Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Russ Bierell, director of the Gold Star Museum at Camp Dodge, brought greetings from Maj. Gen. Ron Dardis, Iowa Army National Guard Adjutant General.
Bierell said the National Guard long predated the United States, drawing its heritage from the militia for the Massachusetts Bay Colonies in 1636.
"I'm really proud of you people and I want to thank you for your service," Gen. Bierell said. He said more than 8,000 Guardsmen have served in Iraq, with 800 there currently. Gen. Bierell said it is a documented fact that Iraqi insurgents particularly avoid the Tiger Hawk trucks with Iowa Guardsmen from the 224th Battalion.
Gen. Bierell assured the families present that the Guardsmen were in good hands.
"We have strong leaders to lead these soldiers off to combat," Gen. Bierell said. He also offered advice to the departing soldiers.
"I want you to draw on your heritage," Gen. Bierell said. "Draw on the training you've had. Draw on the values you've learned from your families and school system. When you draw on your good, Iowa roots, you will succeed."
Well-wishes were plentiful from families and friends. "I'm extremely proud of him," said Traci Uitdeflesch of Cherokee of her boyfriend, Tyler Klotz, also of Cherokee.
Jonathan De Roos of Alta, wearing a camouflage T-shirt and cap, made no bones about his pride for his uncle, Louie De Roos, of Storm Lake. "I think he's my favorite uncle," Jonathan said.
Spc. Travis Anderson of Palmer said he has spent a lot of time relaxing and going camping with his family before his deployment to Iraq. "I'm looking forward to it but I'm nervous and anxious at the same time," Anderson said.