Family, friends give 846th big send-off
By Steve Huffman
The Road Dawgs are taking to the highway this morning.
Members of the U.S. Army Reserve’s 846th Transportation Co. ó affectionally nicknamed “The Road Dawgs” ó are leaving Salisbury today for a year-long deployment to southwest Asia.
Company members are based out of Salisbury and on Monday enjoyed a send-off at their headquarters off Jake Alexander Boulevard.
Hundreds of soldiers ó outfitted in combat fatigues ó and their family members gathered for food, song and fellowship.
“One hundred seventy-two soldiers are going, 172 soldiers are coming back, OK?” Capt. Emilio Rodriguez, one of the company’s commanders, asked the crowd.
His question was answered with a roar of approval.
This marks the second Middle East deployment for members of the 846th. In 2003 and 2004, members of the medium truck company spent 17 months in Iraq.
Exactly where they’re headed this deployment, commanders aren’t saying. Unit members said they’re heading to Ohio for a month or more of training, then being sent to Kuwait.
Where they go from there, the military isn’t divulging.
Never mind, Monday’s gathering was all about having fun and reminding family members that there’s a big support base to help them.
“We’ve probably got a rough road ahead of us,” said 1st Sgt. Marvin Brooks. “Above all, keep us in your prayers.”
Red, white and blue balloons decorated the meeting hall. Food Lion provided the food on which the soldiers and their families dined.
Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz addressed the group and reminded its members what she’d told them when they were deployed in 2003 ó that she’d be on hand to greet them when they returned.
“I’m making that promise again,” Kluttz said Monday.
She said she could identify with the soldiers and their families more than they might realize. Kluttz said her husband was in the military early in their marriage and was deployed when she was a 22-year-old more than eight months pregnant with the couple’s first child.
“I was very angry, very upset,” Kluttz said of that deployment. “I thought I’d cry so hard it’d bring on labor.”
She said her son was a week old before her husband learned he was a father.
The family’s ties to the military don’t stop there.
Kluttz said her son dropped out of college after two years in order to join the Navy. He’s now a lieutenant commander and Navy pilot, she said, and just two weeks ago left for war deployment.
The experiences involving her husband and son and the military helped her identify, Kluttz said, with those who gathered Monday for the 846th’s send-off.
“I was the mother sitting where you are and feeling like you do,” she told the crowd.
Kluttz said she’s long been worried that young people don’t understand the meaning of the word “hero,” thinking it signifies a sports hero who makes millions of dollars a year.
Those aren’t heroes, Kluttz said.
“A hero is someone willing to do what they do for all of us,” she said.
Rick Anicetti, Food Lion’s chief executive officer, also spoke Monday.
“I can think of nothing more noble and courageous to do than what you’re about to do, which is put yourself in harm’s way for us,” he said. “The only people who might be more courageous are those you leave behind.
“It is an amazing sacrifice.”
Members of a chorus from South Rowan High School sang the national anthem Monday. The Salisbury Senior Gospel Choir, which includes members of several local churches, also sang.
Col. Robert Meek, a retired Army officer who represents U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., read a letter from the senator, then addressed the crowd.
Meek reminded soldiers that Dole serves on the Senate’s Armed Forces Committee. “She is keenly aware of what is going on with our military,” Meek said.
Sgt. Patrick Swartz is one of the members of the 846th. He was on hand Monday with his wife, Shana, and his father and stepmother, Leon and Kathy Swartz.
Swartz said he was deployed with the 846th in 2003, and admitted that a deployment is “never easy.”
A diesel mechanic by trade, Swartz has been a member of the Army Reserve since 1993. He and his wife, who live in Denver, have children ages 7 and 8.
“You always leave with stuff unfinished,” Swartz said of the planning that goes into a deployment.
He said members of the 846th were advised last summer that another deployment was forthcoming.
Shana said a meeting of wives and other family members held monthly at the J.F. Hurley YMCA makes deployments somewhat easier for those left at home.
The meetings are part of the 846th’s Family Readiness Group, its goal to remind family members that they’re not alone with the emotions they’re experiencing.
Despite the hardships that are part of a deployment, Patrick Swartz said he’d encourage any young person considering joining the military to do so.
“They’re not going to send anyone out ill-prepared,” he said of the military. “We’re ready for whatever situation they put us in.”
Contact Steve Huffman at 704-797-4222 or email@example.com.