WOLCOTT | It was a picture perfect fall day for a family gathering, complete with cupcakes and photographs.
Except this was a family of soldiers saying goodbye to the people they hold nearest and dearest to their hearts - wives, children, mothers, fathers, loved ones and friends.
About 130 soldiers in the Remington-based 1638th Transportation Company of the Indiana National Guard deployed to Afghanistan after an emotional sendoff in the Tri-County High School gym.
The troops stood while elected officials thanked them, and Indiana adjutant general Maj. Gen. Martin Umbarger praised them for their quick preparation.
Normally, he said, soldiers are notified a year or two in advance that they will be deployed. But with the U.S. military preparing to wind down Operation Enduring Freedom in 2014, there is little time to spare.
“With four months notice you have perfected your individual skills and individual tasks,” Umbarger said. “Take care of those on your left and your right, and we will see you in one year.”
The unit will spend four or five weeks at Fort Hood, Texas before heading to Camp Phoenix in Afghanistan, according to a National Guard spokeswoman.
The company will replace Indiana’s 1438th, which has been providing transportation security for convoys of U.S troops and equipment.
Following the ceremony, family members and soldiers had 90 minutes to hug, kiss, take photographs and put on a brave face for each other.
Sgt. Veronica Franco, formerly of West Lafayette, is focused on her role in the 1638th’s mission. “My duty is to prepare my soldiers, and supervise my soldiers,” Franco said.
Communication from home is essential, said Staff Sgt. Landon Vargo, of Indianapolis. This is the second deployment for Vargo, who served in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2008 and 2009.
“Always stay in touch, and be very, very supportive so the soldier knows everything over here is okay,” Vargo said.
“That way they can have their mind 100 percent in the fight, they can be 100 percent focused and they can focus on everybody getting home safely.”
For 75 percent of the company, this is their first wartime deployment. The others have been to Iraq or Afghanistan at least once since 2001, when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Even though the soldiers and their families braced for the departure, tears flowed, and glasses and camera lenses fogged when it came time for the troops to board three buses and pass through the school driveway flanked by cheering Tri-County students.
Indiana State Police motorcycle units and members of the Indiana Patriot Guard escorted the company to Stout Field in Indianapolis, according to Dale Ready, Patriot Guard senior ride captain for Northwest Indiana.
“We want to let them know there are people here who really care about them, and their families,” Ready said.
“The support doesn’t stop here,” Ready added.
“We send care packages to our troops. They don’t have to worry about their families. The families know the Patriot Guard will help them with whatever their needs are.”