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Pride,respect for troops not absent

LINDEN &045;&045; It will not surprise anyone to hear that the community of Linden is proud of the National Guard’s 200th Engineer battalion, soon to depart for Iraq and honored in a departure ceremony today at Linden First Baptist Church.

It might surprise some outside the town, however, to learn how deep that pride runs.

Evidence of Linden’s commitment and support for their sons and daughters in the 200th was easy to find on Monday.

Storefront signs throughout town proudly displayed "God Bless our Troops" as well as several other patriotic slogans.

Many bumpers and rear windshields were decorated with stickers in the shape of a yellow or red-white-and-blue ribbon.

Perhaps most tellingly, First Baptist’s parking lot had overflowed with the number of vehicles present for the ceremony, and seating inside the church was eventually limited to standing-room-only.

A quick survey of the crowd showed that nearly all of those in attendance, even if not directly related to a member of the 200th battalion, had some immediate connection to those who have served in uniform, be it a husband, son, daughter, or in some cases, parishioners.

Rev. Jim Meadows, who delivered the benediction at the departure ceremony, is among the area clergy whose congregation will be praying for the safe return of some of its military members.

"We’re all very proud," he said.

"This is what America is all about, individuals stepping up when needed for their country, and for the world."

Linden Police Chief Jeff Laudron noted the strong turnout and the battalion’s presence in the community, saying, "We’re close with the group out here…we get to see what kind of people they are.

Linden has definitely pulled together for them.

We’re very proud and we’re going to miss them."

The support the troops will receive in their absence was made clear by the clothing worn by those in attendance at the ceremony, as many wore "God Bless America"shirts, red-white-and-blue buttons, or patriotic hats or scarves.

The love and respect shown by the crowd is mutual, said former battalion commander Virgil Gray, who served during the Gulf War and remains head of a military family support group.

"Soldiers don’t worry about their own lives," he said.

"We do it for the lives of others, for the lives of our families."