Wednesday, July 09, 2003

La. soldiers say goodbye to families, prepare for deployment  

La. soldiers say goodbye to families, prepare for deployment

The Associated Press
7/9/03 6:31 PM

BOGALUSA, La. (AP) -- When he found out that the Louisiana National Guard unit headquartered six blocks away was going overseas, Rafeal Trevino signed up.

On Wednesday morning, Pfc. Trevino, 22, stood with about 100 other soldiers and their families with the 205th Engineers Battalion at a farewell ceremony. The battalion will replace another unit stationed in Afghanistan.

"It's just duties, it's part of the job just like any civilian job," Trevino said, his 4-year-old daughter on his shoulders.

His wife doesn't see it that way, fearing her husband will run into suicide bombers or land mines.

"I'm scared to death he's going to come back in a box," Beverly Trevino said at the ceremony held on a high school baseball field.

The 205th leaves Thursday for Fort Polk. After two weeks there, the battalion will be shipped off, and they're not expected back for a year.

In tight-knit Bogalusa, where about 13,365 people live on 10 square miles, the loss of the soldiers will be felt.

"They're our people, this is my home," said Angelo Pepe, who helped organize a meal of spaghetti, pecan pie and red, white and blue cake for the departing soldiers and their families.

The town raised $5,000 for the going-away ceremony for the troops.

"Rural communities are more attuned to military service," said Sgt. 1st. Class Joe Srofe, head of retention.

Many soldiers returned after Sept. 11, he said.

"I re-enlisted when I knew we were going," said Sgt. Tracy Idiaquez, a 30-year-old first-grade teacher. Last year, she was named Teacher of the Year at Byrd Avenue Elementary.

Master Sgt. Tony Mizell recently returned from Afghanistan with the 769th Engineers Battalion and he volunteered to go back with the 205th. He has been with the Guard for 28 years and sees the current conflict as his calling.

"It's just like playing baseball. You're sitting on the bench all these years," Mizell said. "You get a chance to get off the bench and go play. That's the way I look at it."

Mizell is a welding instructor at a local vocational technical college.

Persian Gulf War veteran Maj. John Rowe's children made a goodbye banner out of a while table cloth for him. They painted their names and wrote the family motto on it: "Stand tall, finish strong."

"It kept the kids busy," said Janna Rowe, who was at the ceremony to see her husband off. "Kept their mind off of things."

Maj. Rowe is a physician assistant with the unit.

"The soldiers are called at a very important time," said Maj. Gen. Bennett Landreneau, the Louisiana Guard's top officer. "Recent events remind us of the perils. These perils are faced by all members of the armed forces."

In January, a soldier from the 769th stepped on an anti-personnel mine near Kabul, Afghanistan while clearing the area of mines. His right foot was amputated.

For Capt. Tim Maker, the unit commander who stayed in even though he moved to Atlanta, it also means not being home for his first wedding anniversary.

"We're proud to do this," he said with his wife, Valerie by his side.

Mike and Tanya Conway, of Picayune, Miss., walked out of the armory with a yard sign they paid $12 to show their support of the troops. But he couldn't hide his feelings.

"We don't like it. I'd be lying if I said I was in favor of this," Mike Conway said. "I have my doubts."

In all, about 500 troops with the 205th will be deployed. The unit builds roads, air fields, hospitals and base camps. The battalion is one of four that makes up the Pineville-based 225th Engineer Group.

Military officials said this is the first time the 205th has been called up for overseas duty since World War II.

As of Wednesday, there are 2,093 Louisiana Army National Guardsman on active duty, the Defense Department said. The total number of Reserve and National Guards nationwide on active duty is 204,100.


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