A send-off ceremony was held Sunday for 120 Iowa National Guard troops who are heading off to Iraq for a year of active duty.
The 833rd Engineer Company, based in Ottumwa, is being deployed for the second time in three years.
Ottumwa Mayor Dale Uehling told the departing troops their service is part of what makes America so great. "Without your sacrifice and bravery, we would not be the land of the free," he said. "…To the community here at home, we need to pray that God will be with you and with all our troops and pray for the safe return."
Iowa National Guard Brigadier General Mark Zirkelbach addressed the 120 soldiers and their 1700 family members who packed the auditorium at Indian Hills Community College. "Everybody here knows and understands what service to country means," Zirkelbach said. "Today we send off the finest of the Iowa Army National Guard, led by experienced NCOs and officers who’ve all deployed before."
Of the 120 soldiers, about 80 have been sent overseas before. The unit, formerly known as Company B of the 224th Engineer Battalion, served in Iraq between October of 2004 and December of 2005. That deployment involved 500 soldiers, four of whom were killed.
Zirkelbach promised the outgoing troops that they’d be missed while they carry out their duties. "We will keep the light on. The community will be strong. We’ll look after your families so you can focus on the mission at hand," he said. "We’re here to recognize that you are not shrinking from service, that you’re stepping to the plate, again, and you have earned the love and the thanks of this community, this state and this country."
Two other Iowa Guard units were bid farewell in the past week — a total of 240 citizen-soldiers from units based in Johnston and Denison.
(3 cuts, Mike Buchanan, KBIZ, Ottumwa)