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Covington and Winder bid farewell to their troops
From left, Spc. Patrick Parris, his father, Freddy Parris Jr., and his brother, Freddy Parris III, take a moment at Friday’s farewell ceremony in Covington for Company B of the 48th Brigade Army National Guard unit. This is the second deployment for Parris, whose unit is headed next week to Mississippi for training, then will head to Afghanistan. - photo by Josh Briggs

 Watch send-offs of the Army National Guard 48th Brigade.

Rainy weather couldn’t dampen the spirits of family members, friends and well-wishers who turned out Friday to say goodbye to members of the Georgia National Guard’s 48th Brigade.

The unit is headed for more training next week before being deployed to Afghanistan later this spring.

Thursday, the Gainesville-based Charlie Company received a rousing send-off at the Gainesville Civic Center. Friday, two other companies in the Guard unit took part in similar events in Covington and Winder.

A lunchtime event was held at Barrow County Leisure Services for families of Echo Company of the 1st Battalion, 121 Infantry Regiment of the 48th Brigade.

Maj. Gen. Terry Nesbitt, state adjutant general, promised the families their loved ones would be taken care of and he assured the soldiers their families would also be taken care of.

“Your soldiers are well-led and they are well-trained,” Nesbitt said.

The unit’s deputy commander, Col. John King, said Echo Company includes police officers, deputies and firefighters.

Andrew Dill, field representative for U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, attended, along with representatives of the Georgia congressional delegation, state Reps. Tommy Benton and Terry England and Auburn Mayor Linda Blechinger.

“Thank you for all you do for our country,” AMVETS Commander Post 12 Bob Heiss said.

Heiss recognized Michelle Walker, secretary of Operation Patriot’s Call, for her organization efforts with the Family Readiness Group.

The organization assists families while their loved ones serve overseas.

“These brave soldiers are Georgia’s daughters, sons, moms, dads, neighbors, co-workers, business partners, friends and loved ones,” Heiss said. “They have demonstrated their willingness time and again to put their lives on hold to serve our nation.”

Spc. Jerome Kidd wasn’t shy about stacking up his plate from a table laden with food.

“They probably won’t be feeding us this good for a long time,” Kidd said.

The community is invited to line May Street/Atlanta Highway from Maynard Street through Auburn for the unit’s departure Monday.

The buses are to leave the National Guard Amory at Lee and Maynard streets at 9 a.m.

At Covington, southeast of Atlanta, members of Honor Company B of the 48th Brigade, were honored at the National Guard Armory.

The crowd included family and friends of the soldiers, along with veterans, politicians and pastors and the Eastside High School marching band.

“I hope our Newton County family can look after your families while you are away,” Newton County Commissioner Mort Ewing said. “I challenge Newton County to reach out and help these families while their loved ones are away.”

For Tangela Mitchell, this will be the fourth time her younger brother, Cpl. Derrick Hood, 27, has left to serve his county.

“It’s hard every time,” she said, smiling at her brother, “but at the same time I know that he’s a soldier and I’m so proud of him. I just pray it up.”

Hood said it doesn’t matter that he’s been down this road three times before; he’s always scared.

“It never becomes something that you just get used to – but this is my job and I will never hesitate to go if I need to,” he said.

Lt. Shilo Crane, the company commander, told the audience that the soldiers have endured a year’s worth of training to prepare for their next mission.

“We’re taking the next step on this journey,” he said. “But we are not going into Afghanistan as an occupied force; we are not going there to force our will or our religion on the people. We are not trying to make them anything more than what they want to be themselves.”

Brig. Gen. Maria Britt reiterated those goals, saying “we are not going over there to conquer, but to liberate and to give the people back their country. Not only are we soldiers where there,” she continued. “But we are ambassadors for the United States of America.”

Sgt. Ryan Weber, 29, leaves behind his wife of seven years, Lindsey, and their 5-year-old son and 5-month-old daughter. Although he has been to Iraq, this will be his first time to the Middle East with this unit.

“It makes it harder when you have children” Lindsey Weber said, “but you do what you have to do. Our son is proud of him and he wants to be just like him. We’re all proud of him.”

Members of the 48th are expected to leave Monday morning to complete training at Camp Shelby, Miss., before heading to Afghanistan.

Reporter Amber Pittman of The Times regional staff and staff members of The Barrow County News contributed to this story.

Regional events