BEND - More than 500 family and community members gathered in the Bend Armory late last month for a farewell ceremony, some silently crying while the National Anthem echoed throughout the room.
"I thought it was really great for the guys to know their community supports them," said Arthur Pereria, a Vietnam veteran and adjutant for Ellis Tracy Post No. 77 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Pereria was the last member of Grant County's National Guard unit to have served in Vietnam.
Dressed in camouflage fatigues and combat boots, Grant County's citizen soldiers stood at attention at the Bend Armory with other members of the Oregon National Guard, experiencing an emotional farewell.
Officially, members don't know where they're going; they do know their mobilization orders read "overseas." On a day when news portended a war that might be longer and more costly than had first been anticipated, it was clear that Grant County's citizen soldiers had steeled themselves for a year-long separation from their families and for the task that might be ahead of them.
Numerous speakers addressed the assembly of soldiers and their family members. Labeling Grant County's citizen soldiers as "our bravest and best," Rep. Tim Kopp, R-Bend, thanked the soldiers and their families for their sacrifice.
"The task of liberating the Iraqi people can't be carried out without the support of families at home ... I understand the emotions of separation ... I am honored and humbled by the show of support I see today," said Ltc. Schutz, 1249th battalion commander.
Spc. Shane Sweek said the farewell ceremony was "eye opening." And it was good to see all those people there to see the troops off, he added. His sentiments were echoed by Sgt. Jason Snyder who said he was gratified by the community's show of support for its deploying citizen soldiers.
The ceremony concluded with a piper playing "The Green Hills of Tyronne" while the colors were retired.
Grant County's citizen soldiers have moved to Fort Lewis, Wash., where they will undergo further training prior to deploying to their ultimate duty station.
Staff Sgt. John Driscoll is the public affairs representative for the 1249th Engineer Battalion (Mechanized), Oregon Army National Guard.