Ninety-one Army reservists, including a dozen from Indiana County, gathered Monday for an official sendoff for a one-year mission to Afghanistan, in a deployment ceremony at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Several hundred family members were in the audience of the Toretti Auditorium, watching the sendoff for the Indiana-based 420th Engineer Company of the Mississippi-based 412th Theater Engineer Command.
“We’re route clearance so our job is to make sure the ways are clear for whatever missions the military has to operate,” said First Sgt. Seth Moore, 38, of Marion Center.
It’s Moore’s second deployment, with the first coming in 2003-05 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
He said he’s “always proud of the support Indiana County has given us,” adding, “I know this community has always been behind our backs.”
The reservists will go first to Fort Hood in Texas, then serve for approximately nine months in Afghanistan. Their tasks can include clearing IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, from the paths the military has to take.
The mission comes at a time of heightened tension in the Middle East and Central Asia, particularly after Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani was killed at the Baghdad, Iraq, airport last week by a United States drone, and Iran has threatened retaliation.
“The emotions are a little bit higher today because of what has happened in Iran, there is no doubt about it,” said Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Rodney Ruddock in his first public appearance since his term as Indiana County commissioner officially ended. “It is never easy for families at this time of year.”
Ruddock commanded a reserve unit 30 years ago, the Company B-458th Engineering Battalion, which later became the 420th.
Brig. Gen. Todd Lazaroski, deputy commanding general of the 412th, said it is the latest chapter of the effort of those he called warrior citizens.
“It is a legacy deeply rooted in the American story,” Lazaroski said. “From the beaches of Normandy and the Argonne Forest, to the frozen mountains of Korea and the steamy jungles of Vietnam. From the rugged terrain of Afghanistan to the streets of Baghdad, Army Reserve soldiers have always answered our nation’s call to duty. That legacy of service has made our nation and the world a better place.”
“I am very proud of my soldiers,” said 420th commander Capt. Robert Henning. “They take care of one another, and they train to the best of their ability.”
“Your decision to commit yourself to serving our country is the ultimate act of courage,” U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township, said through his field representative Brian Subich. “Men and women like you are what make America so great.”
“I understand the trepidations and feelings that a lot of families have,” Subich said, citing his own experiences as the father of two soldiers, one of whom is now deployed overseas. “Please note that we are here to help and assist in any way possible.”
Unit spokesman Major Alan Ross said others headed for Afghanistan come from western and central Pennsylvania, New York State, Ohio and West Virginia.
“I have several constituents who are here,” said state Rep. Cris Dush, R-Brookville. “I am retired Air Force, have been to Iraq myself, and I’ve got a son who has been deployed all over the world.”
“What you do and what you’re doing for your country is important enough for me to cancel an entire day’s worth of meetings because I want to be here to tell you how much I appreciate you,” said state Rep. Donna Oberlander, R-Clarion, whose district includes Armstrong County communities along the Indiana County border. “We are eternally grateful for your willingness to sacrifice your time for this country.”
Sacrifices also happen on the home front.
“We are honored by the family members,” Henning said. “This would not be possible without the family members behind us.”
“There is no way to effectively describe what the families are going through, as well as those people who are deployed,” Dush said. “My wife and my daughter-in-law have both been through that first deployment situation, making sure that they’ve got all their paperwork together, making sure that they know there’s going to be some effective communication back and forth.”
Two chaplains were on hand for Monday’s event at KCAC.
“We are grateful for life, purpose, family and friendship,” chaplain First Lt. Warren Moore prayed to God in his invocation. “We pray for comfort from You and confidence in You, that we can celebrate their departure, endure their absence, and joyfully celebrate their return.”
Sgt. Moore said he recalled those who lined the streets for his unit’s return from Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Endorsing that stance was Indiana Mayor George Hood, who served with the U.S. Army during the Korean conflict in the 1950s.
Today’s military is all-volunteer, though Hood was drafted in 1952.
“I think it was about the greatest three years I ever had,” the mayor said. “I learned a lot in the military.”
Ruddock and Hood also invited the public to show their support Wednesday morning, when the 420th leaves its Indiana base at 7:30 a.m., heads down Fourth Street and then Philadelphia Street past the Indiana County Court House, before moving on to Ben Franklin Road.
“I want you all to return here in a year from now, so we can have a celebration to bring you all back,” the mayor said.
Also Monday, Henning awarded Sgt. First Class Timothy Parkinson a commendation medal for his efforts to ensure that all equipment was properly packed away for the deployment.