Army Reserve unit deploys to Iraq
By Mark Wineka
Specialist Alicia Curtis thinks she’ll miss the simple things, such as
a tall glass of milk or a slice of watermelon.
Staff Sgt. Frederick Smith won’t be able to see his 7-year-old son,
Jaleel, play his first season of football or his 13-year-old daughter,
Christina, dig middle school volleyball.
The hardest part of leaving his family and job for a year?
“Just being away,” says Smith, who left this morning with Curtis and
the rest of the U.S. Army Reserve 991st Transportation Co. for the
unit’s second deployment to Iraq.
Family and friends held a farewell ceremony for the 991st Saturday
morning at the Reserve Center off Jake Alexander Boulevard.
As with any farewell, the goodbyes held some tears and embraces. The
yard where the soldiers assembled was ringed with baby strollers, still
and video cameras and, of course, people.
Spouses, girlfriends and boyfriends, parents, grandparents, aunts,
uncles and cousins were among the people saying goodbye and demanding
that their soldiers keep in touch and out of harm’s way.
For Smith, who lives in Charlotte and is a manager for Next Day
Gourmet, his second trip to Iraq brings back the same disconnected
feelings for his wife, Cherie.
She knows she faces another adjustment period. She knows she will be a
single parent again. She knows her children are older now and more
cognizant of the dangerous spot in the world where their father will
“The effects on them are different,” Cherie Smith said.
The mother has tried her best to show Christina and Jaleel a strong,
positive demeanor when their father’s deployment has been discussed.
“The children are feeding off how well I’m taking it,” she said.
Cherie Smith, a mental health professional, said sticking to a routine
while her husband is away will be important. She also will look to the
Army’s Family Readiness Group for camaraderie and support.
But she knows there may be days and weeks at a time when Frederick’s
mission prevents him from being in contact with the family. Those are
the longest times.
Frederick Smith served in Iraq with the 991st in 2003-2004, and he
acknowledges this trip could be a whole different ball game, given how
things may have changed in Iraq from four years ago. He said he thinks
his family is “coping pretty well.”
When soldiers are gone for a year, they miss out on many things they
would normally share with family ó birthdays, reunions, anniversaries,
holidays ó even the birth of children.
Curtis, 24, will celebrate her next birthday, as will most of the other
soldiers, in the Middle East. She and a soldier buddy plan to make a
sand cake on the occasion.
The war in Iraq started when Curtis was in the 11th grade. Now she’s
putting her studies in social work at the University of North Carolina
at Greensboro on hold for her first active duty deployment.
“I try to think positive and of all the ones who have come back
safely,” said her mother, Peggy Hughes.
Curtis said the 991st has a great company commander in John Bowman and
experienced non-commissioned officers. “I feel pretty confident about
this unit,” she said.
The 991st had no casualties in its first deployment in 2003-2004. Its
168 members come from eight different units in the Southeast.
The company pulled out of Salisbury about 6 this morning for several
weeks of additional training ó in driving and convoy operations within
a combat environment ó at Indiana’s Fort Atterbury before being
deployed as a support unit for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The company already went through 25 days of intense training at Fort
Dix, N.J., in June.
In all, it’s the third Middle East deployment for the 991st, which also
served in Desert Storm in the early 1990s.
The 991st now joins Salisbury’s other transportation company, the
846th, a 160-member unit already serving in its second Middle East
Tina Dalton, who owns a tax preparation business in Lexington, said she
prays for her daughter Catrina’s safety. Catrina, 21, is going overseas
for the first time, and she’s ready to serve her country.
“It’s my job,” she said.
Her daughter “always had this in her to be a soldier,” Tina Dalton
Catrina and several other fellow soldiers were going to stay at Tina’s
house in Lexington Saturday night so they could get back to Salisbury
for the early departure. Other family members with Catrina Saturday
were her grandmother, Annie, and her aunt, Tracy.
Command Sgt. Major Thomas Seuberling, whose last official act in his
40-year career in the Army was to send off the 991st, reminded family
members that the soldiers would be missing many everyday things often
taken for granted ó things such as school events and Scout outings.
Many also will be missing their partners in marriage, he said.
“I don’t care who you are, that’s tough,” Seuberling said of the
sacrifices, but he added it’s been that way for soldiers and their
families since the days of Valley Forge.
Seuberling said the soldiers standing in front of him Saturday were
there because they wanted to serve. Battle drills and “40 warrior
tasks” face them next. “Learn them,” Seuberling growled to the
He also told them that they should vote in November, even though
they’ll be in the Middle East. The company voted 96 percent of its
soldiers when it was last in Iraq, Seuberling said.
Salisbury-based Food Lion provided Saturday’s luncheon for the soldiers
and their families.
Rick Anicetti, president and chief executive officer of Food Lion, said
he was honored to represent the company at Saturday’s farewell. “What
you do and what you’re about to do is absolutely incredible,”‘ Anicetti
told the 991st’s men and women.
Food Lion has several hundred associates connected to the military and
serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz also gave a touching, personal testimony
about her experiences as the young wife of a Navy pilot 40 years ago
and as a modern-day mother of a son who is a career Navy pilot once
again in the Middle East.
When Salisbury City Council starts its meetings with the pledge of
allegiance, Kluttz told the soldiers, “I think about you and the people
like you. What they have sacrificed, she added, gives her comfort and
“I will be here when you return, and I expect to see each and every one
of you,” Kluttz told the company.