Send-off ceremonies for soldiers this weekend

By Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal

HOUSTON – Mississippi National Guardsmen in Aberdeen, Houston and West Point will host send-off ceremonies as they prepare to be deployed to Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom.
Members of the 223rd Engineer Battalion in West Point, the Forward Support Company of the 223rd Engineer in Aberdeen and the 288th Engineer Company (Sapper) in Houston will head for Fort Bliss, Texas, after the ceremonies for additional training.
The units will be deployed for a year.
The West Point unit will be performing route-clearing operations while the other two are Sapper units and will be clearing roads and bridges of explosives.
Col. Tim Powell, head of public affairs for the Mississippi Army National Guard, said even though the units are engineering units, they are soldiers first, and their jobs will be dangerous.
“These engineers will be in the heart of the battlefield,” he said. “They have a job to do, but they will protect each other and their equipment while doing it. So they still will be fighting on top of doing their other jobs.”
The communities are supporting the units and planning big send-off parties.
Miriam Garner is helping with the ceremony in Houston and encouraged businesses and individuals to decorate their stores, homes and yards in honor of the 288th’s deployment.
The ceremony for the 90 soldiers in the Houston unit will be at 10 a.m. today at the Houston courthouse square.
“We need to get the word to the businesses to decorate their store fronts,” Garner said. “The biggest thing for the community to do is show up, decorate their yards and be ready to stand out on the sides of the road that day.”
In Houston, the Patriot Guard will host the flag presentation and guest speakers include Mayor Stacey W. Parker, Brenton B. Montgomery, Brig. Gen. Johnny M. Sellers and Maj. Gen. William L. Freeman. At the conclusion of the ceremony, unit members will share family time before their departure.
In West Point, the ceremony for 70 soldiers is at 3 p.m. today at the West Point High School football stadium.
On Sunday, the ceremony for 90 soldiers is at 1 p.m. at the Aberdeen American Legion building on Mississippi Highway 145.
Lisa Voyles contributed.