Family and friends gathered in five Iowa cities Thursday to say their goodbyes to 310 Iowa Army National Guard soldiers who are bound for Iraq. Members of two transportation companies leave today.
Almost half of the soldiers were involved in a previous deployment to Iraq nearly four years ago. More than 725 people met at the high school in Audubon to send-off 65 members of the Army National Guard’s 1168th Transportation Company.
Unit Commander Captain Sarah Lee Sickles is a 23-year Army veteran who grew up in Ackley but lives in Polk City. Captain Sickles says being away from her loved ones is something you never get used to. In fact, she says, "It’s terrible."
Sickles says: "Getting shot at is really not that big of a deal, but it’s really hard to be away from your family and your loved ones. My daughters and my mother, I e-mail every day. It just makes them feel better to know that everything is okay."
Veterans of other wars had to rely on "snail mail" to get the latest news from home, but emails keep today’s soldiers instantly in-touch. Sickles says she couldn’t live without email while she’s on active duty. She says: "It’s wonderful to get letters and cards. Everybody loves to get mail and getting email isn’t the same, but just knowing that your family is okay and being able to communicate instantly if there is an issue, I can’t imagine it being any other way."
Another sendoff was held Thursday night at Mason City High School for the 115 departing soldiers from that area. Several members of the 1133rd Transportation Company were with the unit when it was called to active duty to support Operation Iraqi Freedom in January 2003. One of them is Chad Hayes of Albert Lea, Minnesota. Hayes says he was glad to see the community support.
Hayes says: "I know it’s hard on a lot of families. I myself am not married and don’t have kids but I know it’s hard for my sisters and my mom, dad." Also shipping out with the 1133rd, Nichole Funk of Mason City says she’s not the only family member in the unit. She is married to a fellow soldier in the 1133rd and her little brother is also in the unit — all three are deploying.
Five communities across the state hosted the sendoff ceremonies for the units on Thursday — Audubon, Iowa City, Mason City, Perry and Marshalltown.