0327CHARLIEAUDHear Jennifer Cook of Newnan talk about her brother's deployment to Afghanistan as part of Gainesville-based Charlie Company.
Supporters filled the Gainesville Civic Center’s ballroom Thursday for a rousing send-off of Charlie Company, a Gainesville-based Army National Guard unit headed to Afghanistan.
The event, lasting about 90 minutes, was filled with patriotic tributes and well wishes from area students, military leaders and elected officials.
Operation Patriot’s Call, a group dedicated to helping soldiers’ families members during the deployment, organized the send-off.
And there were plenty of loved ones attending, including Jennifer Cook and her husband, John, of Newnan.
“I’m excited for him because I knew it was something he wanted to do,” said Jennifer of her younger brother, Pfc. David Neely of Loganville. “He knew he might be sent and he was glad to go.”
To prepare for deployment, Charlie Company, part of the 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment of the Georgia Army National Guard’s 48th Brigade, took part in required training at Fort Polk, La., home of the Joint Readiness Training Center, and Fort Benning near Columbus.
The men are expected to leave Monday morning to complete training at Camp Shelby, Miss., company commander Capt. Jeff Moran said.
The company could train for another two months before heading to its yet-unknown destination in Afghanistan. Deployment then will last 10 months or so, said Staff Sgt. Casey Taylor, who is remaining behind to help with families.
Thursday’s event featured a wide array of presentations, including music by the Chestatee High School symphonic band and Martin Elementary School students.
At one point, audience members stood and waved U.S. flags during a trio’s singing of “God Bless the U.S.A.” Another highlight was a rifle drill performed by Gainesville High School JROTC members.
The program also featured remarks by Gainesville Mayor Myrtle Figueras, U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Gainesville, and Brig. Gen. Maria Britt, commanding general of the Georgia Army National Guard.
After the event, the ballroom erupted into a sea of camouflage uniforms and civilian street clothing as company members and families and friends mingled and exchanged hugs.
Sgt. Gordon Smith of Lavonia was saying last goodbyes to his wife and three children, ages 4 to 7.
“We’ve done it before, so we’re just getting ready to go,” he said, having to raise his voice above the noisy ballroom.
Sgt. 1st Class Archer Ford of Conyers and his wife, Jennifer, were dating during his first deployment several years ago with the company. His parting is especially tough now for the couple, married since June.
“It gets more emotional the closer we get,” Archer Ford said.
“It becomes more real,” Jennifer Ford added. “This is our weekend and then, that’s it.”
A similar farewell ceremony for the 48th Brigade’s Bravo Company in Covington is set for 2 p.m. today on the Covington square. If it rains, the public ceremony will take place at 2:45 p.m. at the National Guard Armory.
A family get-together is planned for today at Barrow County Leisure on Second Street in Winder for the Echo Forward Support Company in Winder. Citing the weather forecast, the decision was made Wednesday to relocate Friday’s picnic from Fort Yargo State Park.
Buses filled with the National Guardsmen are set to depart at 9 a.m. Monday from the Richard B. Russell National Guard Armory, according to the plans as of Wednesday afternoon.
Capt. T.J. Pomian of the Headquarters Company of the 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment, recalled his earlier deployment from Gainesville.
“It was extremely touching to have (local law enforcement) escort us out to the county line and hold all the lights for us,” he said.
The Barrow County News and Covington News contributed to this story.