By CHRIS WILSON
A stadium full of flag- waving friends and family dressed in patriotic colors came out Monday night to show their support for about 100 National Guardsmen with Amory’s 1st Battalion, 198th Armor unit.
The troops are part of the 155th Armored Brigade which has received deployment orders. The biggest contingency of Amory’s troops will leave Saturday morning from the armory between 8 and 9 a.m. The public is asked to support them further by lining Main Street to wave farewell as they depart for Camp Shelby for training in preparation for duty in Iraq.
The guardsmen marched into the stadium in formation behind their color guard as the Amory High School band played. The crowd cheered the soldiers and a host of speakers including local politicians and preachers offered support and prayers for both the troops and their families who will be left behind.
Dr. Lloyd Sweatt asked that the soldiers be blessed abundantly. “Freedom has a cost,” he said. “But we have a secret weapon, and it’s prayer,” he said in an opening prayer.
Sweatt assured the men that the city loves them and will be praying for their protection in the coming months.
“You’re not in this by yourselves,” promised Rev. Marquette Rogers. “We will be praying for you and your families,” he said.
Donna Wise of the Family Support Group state advisory team encouraged people to join the support group which assists families and offers help while the military are away. She said belonging to a support group helps reduce the stress associated with a time of military separation.
“The next 18 to 24 months won’t be easy on the families or the soldiers,” Wise said.
Senator Hob Bryan of Amory reminded the crowd that the reason America is a free country today is because of men and women just like Amory’s troops who are responding to the call to serve. “All I can say is thank you, thank you, thank you,” Bryan told the soldiers.
Monroe County Board of Supervisors President Randal Gray presented a resolution of support from the county to troop commander Capt. William Walley. Gray said it was just one and a half years ago that they were assembling to send off the 223rd National Guard unit from Aberdeen. ‘And we were there when they returned to give them thanks,” Gray said.
The city of Amory also presented a resolution of support to the troops. “We appreciate them and the sacrifices they’re making,” said Mayor Thomas Griffith.
Walley called Monday night’s program a “wonderful show of support.”
“The morale of the troops is high,” Walley said. “They’re ready to go.”
Keynote speaker Command Sgt. Major (Ret.) B.W. Ausborn talked about what America means to him. Citing freedoms such as attending ball games, talking to friends and neighbors about anything they wanted to talk about, including God, and sharing special moments with children and grandchildren in a safe setting is what Ausborn knows as America. “It’s hard not to get emotional when you see something like this taking place,” Ausborn said about the program of support for the troops.
“In our communities we can come together and find comfort,” Ausborn said. He encouraged the public to continue to support the soldiers by sending them gifts and uplifting letters from home. “Being patriotic isn’t seasonal,” he said. “It’s a 365-day a year thing. It’s our duty.”
Gospel singers Bill Monaghan and the group Saving Grace sang patriotic numbers that brought tears to many eyes in the crowd. “Don’t forget this guard unit one single day while they’re away,” Monaghan told the crowd.
The guardsmen and their families were treated to a fish fry at the armory following the program, courtesy of local citizens and businesses which contributed money and food items for the event. Any left over contributions will be used by the Family Support Group to send packages to the troops. Boxes will be set out throughout the community in the coming weeks for donations of non-perishable items and toiletries and such for the troops.