KINGSFORD - Family, friends and area residents gathered on Friday to bid farewell to more than 170 Michigan soldiers deploying to Afghanistan.
Following the singing of the National Anthem, Director of Joint Staff Brig. Gen. Burton Francisco thanked all those in attendance at the departure ceremony held at the Kingsford High School.
Francisco said the Chief of Staff of the United States has said the country is in a state of conflict and would be for awhile.
Because of that, soldiers from the 1432nd and 1433rd Engineering Company's of the National Guard are mobilized and deploying as citizen soldiers to defend the country, he said.
The 1432nd Engineering Co. is based in Kingsford and Iron River. The 1433rd Engineering Company is from Kalamazoo. The two units combined as one for training 18 months ago and will assist the U.S. Army with Route Clearance Operations in Afghanistan.
Francisco said the soldiers are well-trained, well-equipped and well-led to execute their mission as trying ambassadors of this great country.
"Family and friends, we could not be successful without you. We could not serve and do what we do for this country (without your support)," he said.
A pre-deployment event was held at the National Guard Armory in Kingsford before 8 a.m. on Friday for family members of the soldiers.
"We are here to help you. If you need us, give us a call," Francisco said.
All the soldiers, their family members and friends and members of the community as well as the students of Kingsford High School were thanked for attending the ceremony.
"Without you, we wouldn't have a purpose. We do what we do for you. You are the future of America," Francisco said.
Also thanked were the Patriot Guard and Vietnam Vets, who were given a standing ovation during the ceremony. A procession then led the soldiers from the high school through town.
More than 1,000 people attended the departure ceremony held in the Kingsford Middle School gymnasium.
Representatives from the offices of U.S. Senator Carl Levin, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow and U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek were also in attendance. State Rep. Ed McBroom also made an appearance.
A yellow ribbon has always been a display of remembrance for the local community.
Unit Commander, Capt. Todd Falor accepted the ribbon from Francisco for display in Lansing.
The unit was also presented a distinctive state of Michigan flag that will fly at the operating base in Afghanistan.
Capt. Falor said he is proud of every soldier deploying.
"They are prepared 100 percent for this, and are fully-trained and supported," he said. "They trained for one full week out of every month, completed eight weeks active duty status, did a three-week rotation at the National Training Center, and trained in 670 training slots."
Francisco added the two engineering companies are the best of lower and upper Michigan.
And the mission wouldn't be possible without the support of family members and the community.
"Due to your sacrifices, the soldiers are prepared," Falor said.
Falor said this the 11th year the U.S. has been at war in Afghanistan.
"This is a war that needs to be won," he said. "These soldiers will conduct a clearance operation and provide safe travel of thousands of soldiers."
A homecoming for the soldiers will be held when they return in one year.
"Stay focused on the mission," Francisco said to the soldiers.
Nancy Chereskin of Kingsford said she was impressed with Friday's ceremony and especially the words about Vietnam veterans.
"I am very glad I was here," she said.
Chereskin's granddaughter is Tracy (Weir) Mashak, and her husband Trever Mashak deployed with the 1432nd Engineering Co.
"He is definitely ready," Chereskin said.
Soldiers departed from Kingsford on Friday to Grayling and then to Fort Bliss, Texas where they will receive mission specific briefs and training.
From Fort Bliss they will depart for Afghanistan to complete a nine-month tour of duty in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Lisa M. Hoffmann's e-mail address is email@example.com.