Military Matters by Steve Vogel

Deploying Soldiers: 'We Have a Mission'

A new book about Arlington National Cemetery depicts, in photos, its traditions, moods and seasons.
A new book about Arlington National Cemetery depicts, in photos, its traditions, moods and seasons. (By Bruce Dale -- National Geographic)
By Steve Vogel
Sunday, June 10, 2007

Last week, on a splendid night for baseball, thousands of fans poured out from the Metro station at RFK Stadium and walked down East Capitol Street, on their way to watch the Washington Nationals take on the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Unnoticed by most of the fans, a relatively small number veered off from the crowd and turned into the D.C. Armory.

Inside the hot building, families and friends were gathering to say farewell to the soldiers of the D.C. Army National Guard's 275th Military Police Company. The soldiers would be leaving at 3 the next morning, May 31, for Camp Shelby, Miss., in preparation for deployment to Iraq.

For many Americans, the cost and burdens of the war in Iraq pass unnoticed, leaving them free to go to ballgames.

Not so for those serving in the National Guard and Reserve and their families. The Guard and Reserve make up close to 25 percent of U.S. forces deployed overseas, and thousands of them have come from Maryland, Virginia and the District.

The ceremony May 30 for the 275th followed a similar deployment the previous week for the Maryland Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 175th Infantry Regiment, which is sending 640 troops to Iraq, including a company from Silver Spring.

"We've never depended on the Guard more," D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said at the ceremony for the 275th, with the soldiers standing in formation. "We couldn't do it without the Guard."

The 130 soldiers of the company were leaving behind husbands, wives and children for 12 months or more. Cpl. Clarence Weaver hugged his 7-year-old son, Miles, after the ceremony. "Hey, man, I'm going to miss you," Weaver said. "You're going to be good."

Spec. Edward Lartey, 38, was holding his 1-year-old daughter, Elise, while his 2-year-old son, Elias, played at his feet. "No one really wants to go, but we have a mission," he said. "That's been my mind-set."

"Guard is tough," Norton told the audience during an emotional address bidding farewell to the 275th. "Guard is ready, and always has been.

"But it is a great deal to expect of you -- spouses, sweethearts, children. . . . It's another thing to ask you to be all of that," Norton said.

The families of the 275th would be awaiting the return of their loved ones, Norton said: "They are ours. We want them back, each and every one of them."

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