In the harsh cold, Carol Hagood stood on the side of Alta Vista Road hugging an American flag.
Unlike many others who had gathered with her Monday morning, she didn’t have a loved one serving in Gainesville-based Charlie Company, the unit that was about to march by her on its way to deployment in Afghanistan.
“I’m here in honor of my dad and several of our family members who served in the military,” Hagood said, preparing to unfold and display the flag as the soldiers passed by. “I’m just here to offer my support.”
Appreciation for Charlie Company was on full display Nov. 26 as the unit walked from the armory at 153 Alta Vista Road to buses at Gainesville High School.
Onlookers waved U.S. flags and signs with patriotic messages, shouting “We love you!” and “Thank you!” to the soldiers.
“Thank you for answering the call of duty, for putting on this uniform and wearing that flag I love so dearly on your shoulder,” state Rep. Matt Dubnik, R-Gainesville said before the unit boarded the buses. “Thank you for being willing to put yourself in harm’s way.”
A congressional recognition from U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, also was read to the group.
After a few minutes of last-minute hugs from family and friends, the soldiers left under police escort for final training at Fort Stewart near Savannah. The 1-121 Army National Guard unit with the 48th Brigade then will complete a nine-month deployment.
Tammy and Joey Brown of Clarkesville were at the send-off for their 21-year-old son, a member of Charlie Company.
“We’re just proud of him, so proud of young men like him who would join the military at a time of war,” Joey said. “We’re just proud of his service, along with these other young men, who are willing to step forward and stand in the gap to fight for our freedom and defend our country.”
Lt. Nathan Bourdeau, Gainesville High School JROTC lead instructor, gathered with his students at Alta Vista and John W. Morrow Jr. Parkway holding a large American flag.
“It’s important for us to support our citizen soldiers because they’re supporting us,” Bourdeau said.
Many of the unit’s members hold civilian jobs or attend college while maintaining their military training part-time.
“This is an opportunity for us to show the (JROTC) cadets what these individuals are sacrificing for us,” Bourdeau said.
The soldiers’ mission is to improve the Afghan army, said the unit’s commander, Capt. John Whitmire, a Flowery Branch native, in an interview last week.
U.S. forces have been involved in the country since 2001 — or after 9/11 — in what has become America’s longest war. Withdrawals in recent years have reduced America’s presence to about 14,000 troops
As the Afghans take over militarily, “we’re taking a step back,” Whitmire said. “We’re doing advising, primarily. We’re handing over the reins and giving them the ability (to operate) on their own.”
This is Charlie Company’s first deployment since the unit was sent to Afghanistan in 2009-10. Previously, the unit was sent to Iraq.