Area Army Reservists deploy to Afghanistan
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
By Laura Lynn Yohe
INDIANA - There were cakes for each platoon, countless cameras taking pictures, nearly two hundred soldiers in camouflage fatigues, and dozens of loved ones sharing precious moments before members of the 420th Engineer Company (Clearance) left for an overseas deployment.
The occasion was the recent Farewell Ceremony for the U.S. Army Reserve unit based in Indiana, PA, but comprised of personnel from Indiana, Jefferson, Clearfield, Blair, Cambria, Westmoreland, Allegheny and other counties.
Held at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania's (IUP) Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex, the assembly began as the troops filed in to a reserved seating area, their families and friends in rows behind and on either side.
An electronic billboard displayed a "Welcome" and was also used to present a slide show compiled by two of the company which included individual pictures of each soldier and remembrances of their lengthy training, complete with the sounds of machine guns, hand grenades and other ordnance.
With members of the IUP Reserve Officer Training Corps providing the color guard, the congregation stood at attention for Presentation of the Colors and playing of the National Anthem.
First to address the crowd was Captain John Forte, of Johnstown, Commanding Officer of the 420th. Recalling that troops from the Indiana unit, which is part of the 458th Engineer Battalion, had been called to active duty seven years ago, he emphasized that the sacrifice from the soldiers and their families has been "tremendous".
To the families Forte said, "I'm honored to lead and command your soldiers. It's a pleasure to work with them. Over the last year, we've trained really hard to hone our craft as combat engineers."
"They've (the soldiers) done a fantastic job," Forte continued. "It's a challenging mission but combat engineers relish that...embrace it."
The word "Clearance" attached to their unit's designation refers to their specialized task of searching out and removing improvised explosive devices (IED) buried along roads which can cause serious damage to vehicles and inflict casualties among the personnel.
"This next year is a very difficult mission, it will be time consuming," the Captain stated. "As we head in to theater, these guys are ready, trained and motivated to do this mission."
Lt. Colonel Mark Giardina, Commanding Officer of the 458th, opened his remarks with a statistic, saying, "At any given time, one percent of our Nation's population defends our Nation. The 420th makes up that one percent."
Noting the commitment to individual and collective training during the past year, in which the soldiers "fine tuned" skills, Giardina said, "I am humbled to be in front of you. You are ready."
Recognizing that some individuals may not always get along, the Lt. Col. advised the troops, "The mission has only begun. This is the family (fellow soldiers) that will be the success of the 420th."
He closed his remarks by reminding them of the motto of the 458th, "Never So Much By So Few".
Indiana Borough Mayor George Hood said how "very proud" he was of the 420th and to be mayor of the community. Referring to Indiana native son, actor Jimmy Stewart, Hood, commented, "We really do have a wonderful life here."
Hood promised the soldiers, "We'll start tomorrow preparing for your home coming. God bless you all."
Major General (Retired) Rodney Ruddock, now an Indiana County Commissioner, said he had to write down his comments due to the emotions of the occasion.
During his thirty-seven year military career, Ruddock had served as Commanding Officer of a predecessor unit of the soldiers seated before him.
He emphasized the importance of the citizens who serve in not only the Army Reserves but the National Guard. "We need to recognize the soldiers who truly are the strength of our Nation."
Having undertaken similar duties in his tenure, and speaking of Forte, Ruddock said, "I sense the great responsibility you have shouldered for this combat journey."
His voice softened and halting, Ruddock said his two stars (of rank) melted into a captain's bars, "Once a company commander, always a company commander. This is not a mission for the faint of heart."
Ruddock encouraged the mostly young troops to "Be deeply aware of your duty, your honor, and service to your Country. You follow in the footsteps of other veterans."
Of the skills learned in training, Ruddock said, "You are well-prepared to perform each daily mission. You know the risks, and how to mitigate those risks."
"You must approach each task with focus and clarity of purpose," the Major General advised. "Don't leave sight of the Soldiers Creed of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honesty, integrity, and personal courage."
Saying he wished he was forty-one years younger so he could go with them, Ruddock stated, "This is an extremely proud moment in life. I'm honored to be here. Soldiers just like you have completed missions that have made a difference in America. You will make a difference. We are Indiana proud. Essayons (the combat engineer's motto meaning "Let Us Try") and God Bless."
Captain Mike Cerula, Chaplain of the 458th, pronounced the benediction asking God to "Commission your angels to guard over them."
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