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Friends, family bid Iraq-bound guardsmen farewell

Infantry Platoon Leader Lt. Don Arnold holds his son following Tuesday’s send-off ceremony at the National Guard Readiness Center in Bremerton.  - Wesley Remmer/staff photo
Infantry Platoon Leader Lt. Don Arnold holds his son following Tuesday’s send-off ceremony at the National Guard Readiness Center in Bremerton.
— image credit: Wesley Remmer/staff photo

A colorful poster reading, “Daddy, You’re My Hero” — and others of similar connotation — lined a wall of the Armory Building at Bremerton’s National Guard Readiness Center Tuesday, as camouflaged guardsmen, friends and family joined for a send-off celebration.

The Troop C, 1st Battalion, 303rd Cavalry, and Company C, 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry are deploying to Iraq. Most will train at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin for a few months before heading to Iraq, where they’ll provide gate security for convoys on the ground.

“It scares the hell out of you, really,” said Specialist Teddy Schaffer, who will deploy to Iraq for the first time, “but it’s something I chose to do.”

Schaffer, whose father is a military veteran, said his family’s support made the send-off special. He also appreciated veterans being acknowledged.

“It was different, they acknowledged old vets,” he said. “In the past it hadn’t been like that.”

Congressman Norm Dicks (D-WA) spoke briefly, thanking the guardsmen for their duty. He called their role “crucial” for stabilizing Iraq. Dicks also commended the families for their strength.

“To have a local representative there was important,” said Donna Gerken, Family Readiness Group (FRG) lead coordinator. “The fact that it was community based help a lot.”

Gerken said the most important part of the send-off was uniting the guardsmen with their loved ones. A family gathering time and potluck precluded the ceremony, giving the soldiers and families special time together.

“For all the family members to get together,” she said. “It was a very nice send-off. It couldn’t have gone much better.”

The deployed guardsmen belong to the 81st Heavy Brigade Combat Team. More than 2,000 Washington state citizen soldiers and nearly 1,000 from California make up the unit.

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