Guardsmen Head for Iraq, Bid Farewell to Family

Members of the California National Guard. Credit: Carrie Kahn, NPR. i i

hide captionMembers of the California National Guard prepare to deploy to Iraq for a year.

Carrie Kahn, NPR
Members of the California National Guard. Credit: Carrie Kahn, NPR.

Members of the California National Guard prepare to deploy to Iraq for a year.

Carrie Kahn, NPR

Members of Los Angeles-based 160th Infantry Battalion said good-bye in a ceremony at a military airfield Sunday.

About 6,000 National Guard members from California have served in Iraq — about 600 leave Monday for training in Mississippi before going to Iraq for a year.

Before the farewell ceremony got underway, Edith Montiel grabbed her 4-year old Sammy's hand and ran out on the tarmac.

She coached: "Say we support our soldiers!"

"We support our soldiers!" Sammy echoed.

She says everyday her husband Sam is gone she'll tell her two children that Daddy is a hero.

"It's because of him that we have what we have. We're safe," she said. "Where there won't be that much terrorists coming along in America. So they're there to protect us and Daddy's part of it.

In the back of the crowd Gilbert Matthews stood by himself. He said he tells his son Mark that he's proud of him but can't get behind this war.

"You know I just try to point out to him you've got to be safe, you've got to watch yourself. It's not nice over there," he said. "I don't think no American soldier should be over there, but you know, it's not for me to say."

Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA) gave a speech, and acknowledged that many in the crowd and across the nation are getting weary of the war:

"But we stand for freedom and we will lead the world in preserving those values that have been preserved by the people of this batalion and the Americans' fighting men over the years."

For many of the 160th this is their second deployment to Iraq. Sgt. Roldofo Gaona will be leaving behind his 2-month-old son.

Gaona said it was an emotional parting, but he felt good.

His wife Susana Gaona was not as confident. She says she doesn't believe this war is the job of the National Guard.

"I think they just need to come here and protect the country here, inward, not be out there," she said. "They need to be here, they're National Guard –- the title says it."

In California, nearly a quarter of the Guard is committed to the war on terrorism or duty along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Even so, Deputy Commander John Harrel said there are enough guardsmen to respond to natural disasters in California.

Sgt. David Garcia is going on his second tour, and he worries that his wife and three young girls are going to be okay while he's gone. He doesn't worry as much about his own safety.

"I feel very confident about what I'm going to be doing over there, and hopefully I'll come home in one piece," Garcia said.

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