By Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Soldiers in the 1st 185th AHB Battalion expect to see fewer hostile faces on an upcoming deployment to Iraq.
About 65 soldiers, 40 of whom are based in Tupelo, will leave today for Fort Hood, Texas, to get ready for a year-long deployment. The group returned from Kosovo in 2008, and several previously have been deployed to Iraq.
The 1st 185th unit’s commander, Lt. Col. Ronald Beckham, said there will be fewer American soldiers on the ground compared to his last stint in 2003 because of the troop withdrawal that began this year.
“There are about 50,000 American troops on the ground right now in Iraq and there were more than 300,000 the last time I was there,” said Beckham. “But Iraq is a different country now. It’s calmer than it was then, so we hope to have a good, safe trip and return home in a year.”
The 1st 185th, which is an aviation unit, will perform air assaults, VIP transports and reconnaissance missions, according to Beckham.
Dozens of family members, friends, fellow soldiers and dignitaries were at the Army Aviation Facility in Tupelo on Wednesday to see the men and women off. Mayor Jack Reed Jr. expressed to the soldiers how grateful he and the residents of Tupelo were to have them represent the country, state and the city.
Maj. Gen. William Freeman Jr., the adjutant general for Mississippi and commanding general for the Mississippi Army and Air National Guard, was the guest speaker at the sendoff.
Freeman commended the soldiers and their families on answering the call of duty once more. He also expressed confidence in Beckham’s ability to command the troops.
“These soldiers are in good hands with Lt. Col. Beckham,” he said.
As the ceremony drew closer to an end, the reality of leaving hit Anthony Nugent and his family. Nugent, of Myrtle, held his 2-year-old daughter, Jayli, in his arms and his son, 7-year-old Anthony, by the hand and walked them over to one of the helicopters that will be joining the troops in Iraq.
While Anthony stared wide-eyed at the massive machine, his dad stared just as hard at his children.
“This is going to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” said Nugent, who is on his first deployment. “I’m going to miss my family a lot, but I know I have a job to do and I’ll do it and come back home to them.”
Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or firstname.lastname@example.org.