412th wished good luck, Godspeed ahead of deployment|[01/26/08]

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 26, 2008

Music, prayer and some tears were all part of a ceremony Friday for a detachment of Army reservists who left Vicksburg for training and eventual deployment to Iraq.

Standing at attention before loved ones and army comrades, members of the U.S. Army Reserve’s 412th Engineer Command prepared themselves for last goodbyes and the uncertiainties ahead. The Friday morning ceremony in a crowded hall at the 412th’s headquarters on Porters Chapel Road began with the order to present arms, and the troops saluted.

After a few speeches, several prayers and the national anthem, the 74 reservists boarded buses that left for Camp Shelby, south of Hattiesburg.

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They will join the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division in Iraq, serving where they are needed. Though they deploy as a group and will train together at Camp Shelby for combat readiness, their assignments overseas will disburse them to where they are needed individually.

Engineers play an integral role in the reconstruction effort in Iraq, much of whose infrastructure has been destroyed during ongoing conflict between coalition forces and insurgents.

Delivering the invocation, the Rev. Willie Nettles prayed those present would be grateful “for this country that we live in, for the freedom that we enjoy. We’re grateful for family, Father, grateful for loved ones.”

“Help them to rebuild torn down villages. Help them to be a blessing over there,” said Nettles, who pastors at Bypass Church of Christ on U.S. 61 North, the home church of departing Sgt. 1st Class LeRoy Tousant.

Shellon Wilson, also of Bypass, sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

First Sgt. Mary McNair, mother of one of the departing troops, sang the Irish blessing. “May the road rise to meet you, May the wind be always at your back,” the song begins. And the last line, “May God hold you in the hollow of his hand.”

Her son, Bobby Tullos, is a staff sergeant who graduated in December from the University of Mississippi. He said his mother was his and his sister’s influence in joining the military.

“I was able to see the good things she was able to do through the Army,” he said.

It will be Tullos’ fourth tour of duty. He was part of the first wave of soldiers that captured Baghdad in 2003.

It was a second, third or fourth time around for most of those leaving Friday, Maj. Gen. Robert Williamson said in his remarks.

“They are going to help restore peace and hope for the people in Iraq,” Williamson said.

“It’s my country. You do what you gotta do,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Cabral as he walked to the buses. He volunteered for this deployment, his third.

Williamson, who heads the 412th Engineer Command, spoke, along with Vicksburg Mayor Laurence Leyens and the detachment commander, Col. Theodore Rigo.

The 412th chaplain, Lt. Col. James Barnett, delivered the benediction. To audible sniffles, he prayed God grant the troops “wisdom and discernment.”

The group will train at Camp Shelby and deploy to Iraq sometime later; military representatives keep vague about troop movements and timetables. They will stay for about a year.

“I think the training in Shelby is going to be good,” Lt. Col. Paul Williams said. “We’ll be going together as a team. It’s a good bunch of people.”

Williams’ family, who drove five hours Thursday from Iuka to see him off, said it was his third deployment but his first to Iraq.

His wife, Gwen, sons Ben and James, and daughter Camilla, all said they were worried.

They will keep in touch through email and phone calls. “The army’s very good to us about providing communication,” Gwen Williams said.

Tullos’ girlfriend, Charlotte Skelton, said she will write him often.

“I hid a bunch of random notes in all of his gear before he left,” she said.

As reservists, most of the troops left careers and day jobs behind, but they say they will miss family and friends more.

“Don’t lollygag around, but get a hug,” came the order before troops filed to the buses past a bevy of well-wishing family and friends.

As the buses pulled away, McNair recalled her fears when her son was deployed shortly before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“I think knowing more than the average person about what goes on in the Army makes it a little more difficult,” she said. “But it also makes it easier. I know the protection he’ll have and the precaution they take.”