PERRYVILLE, Mo. -- The Perry Park Center in Perryville was packed Sunday afternoon as members of the community came out to give their best wishes to the Missouri National Guard 1140th Engineer Battalion Company B before it departs for the Middle East early Tuesday morning.
Similar ceremonies were held throughout Southeast Missouri this weekend for the battalion's other companies. A send-off for Headquarters Company, based in Cape Girardeau, was held Saturday at the A.C. Brase Arena Building, and Company C, out of Sikeston, also had its own ceremony at the Sikeston Senior High School the same day.
Company B, based in Perryville, has more than 100 members who will be sent to the Middle East, most likely in support of U.S. operations in Iraq. In addition to those based in the Perryville area, Company B also has many members from Jackson.
"The community of Perryville has been very supportive of the Guard," said Brig. Gen. Dennis Shull, adjutant general of the Missouri National Guard. "It does your heart good to see it. We've seen so much support at all the departure ceremonies for the 1140th."
Shull, one of the deployment ceremony's featured speakers, praised the members of Company B for their great sacrifice to their country. "You're about to be tested," he said in his address. "You're among the best. You set the standard, and you know to raise the bar."
He also instructed the soldiers that it was their mission to protect the country in the turbulent times it is now experiencing.
He was joined by numerous other speakers, including state Reps. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, and Scott Lipke, R-Jackson, and U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau.
"Let it never be said that you are not appreciated," Crowell said. "The American soldier provides a blanket of freedom for Americans. Thank you for providing the blanket of freedom that I slept under last night and will sleep under again tonight."
Company commander Kevin Compas said the sacrifice was particularly great for his unit, because many of the soldiers have already established families of their own.
"They average in age probably in the early 30s or late 20s," he said. "I know of at least six families that will likely be having babies while we're gone."
Construction workThe battalion will be abroad for a maximum of 18 months, but the typical rotation for soldiers in Iraq has been one year, said Compas. Since they are an engineer battalion, their duties likely will consist of things like clearing minefields and constructing roads, buildings, and other infrastructure, he said.
Shull encouraged the community to help the families of the soldiers in what probably will be a long absence. "They can baby-sit, cut grass, just do something small. Those are the things that will really help."
Shull's wife, Kay, said an extensive support network exists through the Guard, the Family Readiness Group. The group helps the families that have been left behind by teaching them how to perform basic tasks like changing and checking motor oil, as well as enlisting volunteers to help with things like mowing yards.
"They will really help in hard times," she said. "They will form a bond much stronger than almost any they have. They can cry on each other's shoulders."