The tiny circles of family, friends and uniformed men and women that dotted the Trinity Baptist Church fellowship hall formed around the surge of emotion that comes with saying goodbye to loved ones going off to war.
With hugs and backslaps, tears and kisses, the 150 members of the N.C. Army National Guard's 105th Military Police Battalion enjoyed some precious moments together Feb. 24 before the unit's Feb. 25 departure for Fort Bliss, Texas. From there, the unit will proceed to Iraq, where it will work security at an internment camp in Baghdad.
For some, the event was tinged with apprehension.
"I'm just anxious," said Winston-Salem resident Jennifer Cline as her husband, Spc. Nick Cline, held their 2-year-old son, Keelan. "I'm proud of him, but of course I'm going to miss him."
Nick Cline, a construction worker gearing up for his first deployment, noted, "I'm ready to get over there and serve my country."
But for Sgt. Timothy Sagoes, the goodbyes were all too familiar. The Charlotte resident was deployed to Afghanistan in 2003-04 and to Iraq in 2005-06 while serving in the Army.
Now with the National Guard unit, Sagoes said he knows what to expect. The time away is hard on his family: his wife, Lawanda; his 8-year-old son, Timothy junior; and 4-year-old daughter Jayla.
"They're a little down," he admittted, adding that he's looking forward to staying in touch with his loved ones via Skype, an Internet calling service.
The best advice Sagoes can offer his fellow National Guardsmen is simple: "Don't let your guard down." Nonetheless, he's optimistic about the U.S. involvement in Iraq, saying, "We're progressing."
The official ceremony featured speeches by military officials and politicians.
Brig. Gen. David L. Jennette Jr. said that all the worry, pride and sacrifice by the guardsmen and their families are paying off, noting that the Asheville unit will be working alongside Iraqi security forces as a prelude to turning over control of the internment camp to them. Lt. Col. Warren Wintrode, commander of the 105th, promised to keep family and friends informed about the unit's work. And Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Vice Chair Bill Stanley got a rise from the soldiers when he wished them a safe return and said, "When in doubt, empty the magazine."
The 105th Military Police Battalion, which has about 150 soldiers, is the second local National Guard unit to be sent to Iraq this year. A deployment ceremony for the 163rd Area Support Medical Company in East Flat Rock was held recently, with the unit heading to Washington state the first week in March before being sent to Iraq.
Visit www.mountainx.com/gallery to view a photo gallery of the deployment ceremony.