Citizen soldiers depart today

Staff WriterApril 14, 2009 

— Some 4,000 members of the National Guard and their families packed the Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville today for a formal goodbye before the Guard heads off to Iraq.

The 8,500-seat coliseum was filled to capacity, and others waited outside. Col. Gregory Lusk, commander of the N.C. National Guard's 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team, called the gathering "a hall of heroes."

Lusk said the brigade, which is starting its second deployment to Iraq, is ready for the work ahead.

"The mission for the 30th Brigade going forward to Iraq will be an exciting one as we join with our Iraqi partners in working by, with and through them as they continue their quest for democracy, as they continue providing security to their fellow citizens, and as they continue expanding the economic opportunities that prove so important to their fellow Iraqis," he said.

Also among the 14 speakers was U.S. Army Secretary Pete Geren.

"You are citizen soldiers in the finest tradition, serving at home and serving abroad," Geren told the Guard members. "Our nation, our grateful nation, owes you a debt we can never repay."

The 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team is based in Clinton. Members include college students, police officers and a school principal, from armories based in towns from Wilmington to Charlotte.

Kim Schnack, 29, of Franklinton brought her 3-month-old daughter to the sendoff for her husband, Scott, 28, an active-duty member of the guard. Asked whether she was worried about her husband, a sergeant first class, she said, "You don't worry about things. You deal with it as it comes. You can't plan your life around the military."

Although the vast majority of soldiers in the 30th live in North Carolina, it includes a battalion from West Virginia and a company from Colorado.

The soldiers were presented with the state flags of North Carolina, Virginia and Colorado to take with them to Iraq and to return when the deployment is complete.

matt.ehlers@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4889

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