By Ray Van Dusen/Monroe Journal
ABERDEEN – Six flags will hang from the ceiling of American Legion Post 26 in honor of them. A signed community covenant will hang in City Hall to signify them. For the next 400 days, 87 of Aberdeen’s own will serve a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
The 223rd Engineer Combat Battalion of Aberdeen’s National Guard will mobilize Tuesday morning with units from West Point and Houston primarily for route clearance support.
“This is my third ceremony like this and the ‘wow’ factor increases each time. It’s evident the people of Aberdeen and Monroe County are behind you,” Brig. Gen. Johnny Sellers of the 168th Brigade said.
The community has come out in full support of the unit in the weeks and months leading up to the deployment through fundraisers, projects and overall appreciation.
“In my 12 years of service, I’ve never served in a place with as much support for the troops as the city of Aberdeen. As soldiers, we may stumble and fall because we’re not perfect, but we succeed with your support,” Capt. Josh Ulrich, commander for the 223rd Engineer Combat Batalion said.
For the past six months, members and volunteers associated with American Legion Post 26 have planned on how to bid the soldiers adieu. The final result was a sendoff ceremony on Sunday merged holiday festivities with fellowship for more than 700 people.
“While you’re over there standing up for us, the American Legion is standing up for you. Your country has committed certain healthcare, education and retirement benefits – we’re not just giving them to you, you earned them,” said Mississippi First District Congressman Alan Nunnelee.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, 17,000 members of the Mississippi National Guard have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Tuesday’s deployment will include approximately 250 soldiers from three local units.
“Freedom isn’t free and if we weren’t fighting for it on foreign soils, we’d have to fight for it on our own,” said James Edwards, state commander of the American Legion.
According to Post 26 commander, Buzzy Cullum, the American Legion will have a similar welcome home ceremony when the soldiers return home. The Aberdeen unit will leave the National Guard armory at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday and parade through downtown before flying out of Tupelo. The public is encouraged to show their support as the convoy makes it way through town.