ST. MARYS — Hundreds of people packed the gym at Memorial High School on Sunday to pay their respects to members of a locally based Ohio Army National Guard Unit that is slated to serve in Afghanistan later this year.
A Call to Duty ceremony was held for approximately 90 members of St. Marys Alpha Company of the Special Troops Battalion 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team as a way for family, loved ones and local residents to give the troops a send off as they embark on a yearlong deployment. Sgt. Lou Badgett said the event is a pivotal moment for the troops and their families.
“It’s just a huge event,” Badgett told The Evening Leader. “We’re honoring the soldiers who are willing to put their lives on hold to defend our country. It just doesn’t get any better than that.”
Badgett, who served as master of ceremonies for the event, praised St. Marys for its support of the troops. That support was evident by the number of local veterans groups and citizens who turned out for the ceremony.
“The local support is outstanding,” Badgett said. “It kind of gives the soldiers even more of a sense of purpose. It builds their pride and confidence even more.”
The ceremony featured comments from a handful of state, local, federal and military officials. State Sen. Keith Faber praised the troops for answering the call to duty and protecting the nation.
“When you were brought in, you were introduced as heroes,” Faber said. “When I go around and talk to groups about the service of our men and women in the armed service, and frankly our police and firefighters who protect and serve, I always remind young people that you are the heroes. While you probably won’t see your face on a box of Wheaties and you probably won’t have a pair of tennis shoes named after you. You are the heroes.”
St. Marys Mayor Greg Freewalt also addressed the troop. Freewalt called the day bittersweet.
“It’s a sweet day as you are the best trained and equipped soldiers in the world,” Freewalt said. “You will be defending the United States of America in a new type of war against terrorism and helping a very oppressed fellow man in Afghanistan. A bitter day as our young men and women will be leaving their homes, their loved ones, their friends, to travel to a war zone in a foreign country.”
Captain David Swisher, who is the commander of the unit, said he was proud of his soldiers for answering the call to service. He also praised the local community of its support of the troops.
“I can’t say enough about St. Marys,” Swisher said.
“We always feel like we are at home when we are in St. Marys. I’ve never seen a single community take care of the soldiers like I have seen in St. Marys.”
Swisher praised the soldiers for being able to put their civilian lives on hold to serve and protect their country.
“No words can describe the level of commitment you have given to this country or this organization,” Swisher said. “
Badgett said the unit will return to Camp Shelby, Miss., for additional training before shipping out to Afghanistan. Badgett said a timeline for the soldiers’ return has yet to be established.
This will not be Alpha Company’s first trip to the Middle East. The unit returned from its last deployment to Iraq in 2008. In the past, soldiers from the locally based unit also have served in World War I and World War II.