Guard departures emotional
On Jan. 3, I had the great honor of participating in deployment ceremonies to honor departing Alabama National Guardsmen and reservists heading to the Middle East.
It was very heartwarming to see such a large turnout in support of those who are sacrificing so much so that we may continue to enjoy the freedoms and rights that make America the greatest democracy in history.
It is in the best tradition of our nation that citizen soldiers put their civilian lives aside and take up arms in support of the greater good.
I am very proud to say that Alabama, although a small state, has the fifth-largest National Guard force in the United States and the highest per capita participation rate of any state in the union.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, when we were abruptly thrust into a war on terrorism, more that 7,800 Alabama National Guard members have been mobilized. That number represents 52 percent of our state's National Guard force. At this moment, 5,680 Alabama guardsmen are on active duty.
During the past week alone, more than 10,000 additional United States National Guard and reserve troops have been called to active duty. The Pentagon says that this deployment is needed in order to rotate troops and relieve forces that have been in Iraq for an extended period of time.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has praised the efforts of the National Guard, saying that they are "doing a superb job." Currently, the total National Guard and reserve forces on active duty is 193,959.
Secretary Rumsfeld credits the current heavy reliance on reserve forces to a shift in policy 25 years ago. At that time, up to 95 percent of the manpower in some military specialties was transferred from active duty to the Guard and reserve.
The Department of Defense is currently trying to rebalance the active/reserve force mix so that in the future there will not be as great a need for call-ups.
The local sendoffs were in honor of the 711th Signal Battalion which has companies stationed throughout our state.
The last time this unit was activated to this extent was during the Berlin crisis in the Cold War in the early 1960s. Their objective in Iraq is to complete communications tasks, such as installing phone lines in what continues to be a hostile environment.
For many involved, these farewell ceremonies were a family affair. There are numerous touching individual stories of the sacrifices these troops are being called on to make on our behalf: brothers leaving side-by-side, best friends leaving Alabama to go across the globe, and of course the mothers and fathers that are having to leave their families during their period of deployment.
The first ceremony I attended on the third was in honor of Company A in Atmore, while the second ceremony was in honor of Company C in Foley. The third ceremony was in honor of the entire 711th Signal Battalion in Mobile. The 700 or so members of the unit were to travel to Fort Stewart, Georgia before deploying to Iraq.
As your Congressman, it was a time of many mixed emotions. The patriotic fervor that surrounded these deployment ceremonies was inspiring.
The troops learned of their departure only two weeks before Christmas, so emotions were running high during the holiday season. I am sure the situation gave many the chance to truly have a more meaningful holiday and to more fully appreciate the spirit of the season.
These soldiers were prepared to heed the call from their country, and I could not detect any who had questioned their mission. They realized that they were able to spend Christmas with their families while many others could not.
Many felt gratified knowing they are going to relieve other servicemen and women who will now see their families for the first time since the war started.
We should all treasure and value the sacrifices of the National Guard. I was honored to have been able to send off these troops as they are going to help protect the United States and the world from future threats. I wish them Godspeed as they go into harm's way, and I hope and pray for their safe and speedy return.
Please let us know if we may be of assistance in any way.