By Jared Felkins
Fort Payne, Alabama
Published April 21, 2009
Friends, family and Fort Payne faithful wished the soldiers of the 1343rd Chemical Co. godspeed Tuesday as they left in buses headed to Texas and eventually Kuwait.
“We don’t say, ‘We support the troops, but…’” said Randy Owen, who sang the National Anthem before the deployment ceremony Tuesday at the Fort Payne Armory. “We say, ‘We support the troops and their families.’ If you need anything, we are there for you.”
A large crowd of friends, family and local, state and national officials gathered as about 130 troops were lined in attention to witness the morning ceremony.
“As each of you plan to deploy to Kuwait, it’s an honor to be with you to recognize your contributions,” said Congressman Robert Aderholt. “Protecting our country is something we take very seriously in Congress. You are what makes this nation great, and we will never forget that.”
The troops took a tour of Fort Payne on buses before entering Interstate 59. In Gadsden, the troops met up with about 95 other soldiers also deploying on Tuesday. From there, the National Guard soldiers head to Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas before heading to the Kuwait boarder with Iraq in mid-July. The troops will offer security to convoys while deployed.
“We have the best leaders and the best soldiers in the Alabama National Guard standing before you today,” said Battalion Cmdr. Alan Nayhem. “But the real heroes are the family members.”
Many speakers, soldiers and officials, stressed community support for family members who wished their loved ones goodbye and godspeed.
“I’d like to tell you how proud I am of this group of soldiers,” said Capt Jess Howard. “The next year will be tough on you, but remember it is only a year. To the family members, be your soldiers’ rock of support.”
Fort Payne Mayor Bill Jordan told the soldiers and their families he understood the personal sacrifices each one was making.
“We salute you and wish you the best of luck,” Jordan said.
The American Legion Riders, directed by former company member Randy Ray, led the soldiers to Birmingham on motorcycles.
“All of these who have worn these colors have been there,” Ray said. “We want to support them. We want to give them a send off.”
Between the ceremony and time when troops boarded buses, they had a few hours to say goodbye to family and friends.
“God willing in 11-12 months from now we will be standing right back here in Fort Payne, Alabama,” said Maj. Gen. A.C. Blalock.