More than 200 family members and friends of the soldiers of the North Carolina National Guard’s 151st Engineer Company sent them off in a mobilization ceremony on Tuesday.
The ceremony was held in Avinger Auditorium at St. Andrews University, where the 93 company members were addressed by their commanding officers in preparation for an imminent deployment to Afghanistan. The company, based in Laurinburg’s National Guard Armory, is comprised of soldiers from throughout North Carolina, many of them from Scotland and Hoke counties.
“At least once a month, all of these men call Laurinburg home,” said Laurinburg Mayor Tommy Parker. “We’re certainly proud of you, and glad that you call Laurinburg home. You are going in harm’s way because we enjoy freedom in this country as a result of your efforts. We wouldn’t have the freedom we have without the commitment of our military. “
Parker added that citizens were indebted to the soldiers.
“My only wish is that you go there to proudly honor your country and come home safely,” he said.
The company will serve as a route clearance company in the southern region of Afghanistan, clearing supply and patrol routes for multinational forces stationed there. For nearly half of the company’s soldiers, this is not their first deployment.
“If you look out among these soldiers, you will see that we have some of the most experienced combat engineers in the state,” said Capt. Thomas Grabos, the company’s commander. “Our ranks are filled with talented and competent NCOs and officers. Fifty percent of these soldiers in this company have deployment experience - many of them have conducted route clearance missions before, and there’s a strong mix between Iraq and Afghanistan. These veterans have helped mentor and guide our soldiers for this upcoming fight.”
Col. Ronnie Coats, assistant adjutant general for the North Carolina National Guard, spoke of the debt of gratitude owed by the National Guard to its soldiers’ support networks at home, particularly family members and employers.
“North Carolina is a small business state and I could only imagine, if I was an employer, knowing that these soldiers right here are some of the very best employees that they have,” Coats said. “Seeing them go, and it’s longer than a year considering the training and everything that you have gone through in prepping for this mission, we appreciate what the employers do for our team. It allows this state and this great nation to continue to be who and what we are: the greatest nation on earth.”
Two National Guard rituals were observed during the ceremony. Adjutant General Major Gergory Lusk handed handed Grabos a North Carolina flag to be flown over the unit’s headquarters in Afghanistan and returned upon the completion of the mission. Also, Sergeant Tommy Pope delivered a rendition of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” complete with a unified salute from all of the company’s soldiers.
Coats also remarked upon the fact that all members of the 151st Engineering Company are volunteers, as are all members of the U.S. Armed Forces who have enabled the United States to sustain a decade-long war effort.
“We have the greatest National Guard there is in the free world,” he said. “We could not do what we do without you sitting in front of us. Never in the history of the world has a nation been able to sustain a 10-year war effort by volunteers. It has always had to revert to using conscripts or not continuing the mission. We have been in this business now for 10 years. Many of these great soldiers have been deployed one, two, or three times, and still they sit in front of us today and continue to do our great work. I commend you for that. This great country is defended by less than one percent of its population, and we have that one percent sitting in front of us.”
The company’s next stop will be Fort Bliss, Texas, where soldiers will receive their final training in preparation for deployment.
“For those of you being deployed for the first time, continue to soak up the experiences of your brothers who have deployed before you,” Grabos told his unit. “Share your own experiences with them, because believe it or not, your training is a wealth of knowledge to this team.”