Dec. 11, 2004 Children, spouses, friends, family members and colleagues of National Guard personnel about to be deployed to the Middle East gathered Saturday morning to say fair thee well to the more than 50 men and women who will be leaving the territory Tuesday.
The room at Palms Court Harbour View was decorated with yellow ribbons and red and yellow table decorations, and dozens of children sat with parents and aunts and uncles as officials and support personnel directed a message of unity and discipline to the guards people and their families.
Lt. Col. Beresford Edwards, troop commander, said, "You are one unit leaving the territory, no matter where you are from."
Edwards said not only are there personnel going from St. Thomas and St. Croix, two people from the states are being deployed with the 652nd Engineer Detachment. "We expect you to work as a team," he said.
Sgt. Maj. Barry Fredericks, state commander, also cautioned family members not to send bad news to personnel in the field. "Don't send them any information like 'the toilet is clogged,'" he said. "You tell us about that."
Part of the reason for the gathering was for the family program coordinators to let families know there were services available to help them while their loved ones were away.
Members of the 652nd are expected to be gone 18 months, according to Desery Joseph, family group leader on St. Thomas.
Adjutant General Cleave McBean said before the ceremony began he didn't know where the troops would be going Iraq or Afghanistan. "They will be going to that theater, though," he said.
It is the job of the engineer's unit to construct houses and help with the rebuilding in the war-torn counties. But McBean said it was not out of the question that the men and women could see armed conflict.
First Lt. Derek Joseph, commander of the unit, said all of the troops carry M-16s.
Both McBean and Joseph said in a combat zone, "Anything is possible."
The 652nd is the forth V.I. National Guard unit to be deployed since the U.S. invasion of the Middle East began, McBean said.
The 661st MP unit was deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Both the 631st Engineer Detachment and the 620th Water Purification unit have been to Afghanistan. The 631st is still there, Mc Bean said.
Later during the formal ceremony, he said with 700 National Guard personnel in the Virgin Islands, more than 47 percent a higher than average percentage had been deployed to the "theater."
The spirits in the room ran high on Saturday morning. There were no tears or dramatic moments.
McBean said Virgin Islanders have never been reluctant to serve their country. He said during World War I, in fact, islanders protested to be able to serve.
But McBean did say he felt like a parent watching his children go away. "Even though you sometimes feel like you want them out of the house, you really don't."
A similar ceremony was to take place on St. Croix in the afternoon.
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