Off to war

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Tuesday evening wasn’t a weekend get-together with a group of National Guard members. It wasn’t a practice run, or an obstacle course, or a family picnic.

Yes, there was food at the Demopolis National Guard Armory on Tuesday; and yes, there were family members scattered about the auditorium. But on this night, the dire reality of America at war hit closer to home than ever expected.

More than 130 National Guard members from this area alone have been deployed, according to Sgt. Kenneth Slay. An advance team will leave for Fort Benning, Ga., on Tuesday, Jan. 21. On Friday, Jan. 24, the rest of the company will make the bus trip one state away.

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That trip, however, is probably not the end of the journey. Company Commander Jeff Smith said where the Demopolis 167th Engineers go next cannot be released. Many of the Guard members don’t even know themselves.

Sgt. B.B. is one of a few from out of town who are part of the Demopolis company. He’ll leave a wife, one child and a pulpwood job next week.

He said, so far, his wife and child have been supportive of him and there’s been little emotion around the household.

Sgt. Ruby, a registered nurse in Demopolis, is leaving a husband and two children under the age of two behind.

And the family?

Thoughts from Guard members were short and to the point on Tuesday. Maybe that’s because the 167th Engineers have never been deployed before. Maybe it’s because the years of faithful service to the military have never meant going into battle.

Sgt. Walton has been with the National Guard for 22 years, and this is the first time he’s been called to duty.

While Tuesday’s meeting at the armory wouldn’t be considered a going-away party, it did serve as the first of what may become many stark realities for family members of those soldiers who will leave for war in a week.

Among the topics addressed at the meeting were re-employment rights, payments of loans, all the way to home mortgages.

As for employment, National Guard members called to active duty cannot lose their jobs.

While there are many questions left about this deployment and the final destination of more than 100 Demopolis citizens, the meeting was much needed for some family members.