WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Ashley Kerley couldn’t stop crying during a farewell ceremony on Saturday for 100 members of a National Guard battery who are leaving here for peacekeeping duty in Egypt.
Her tears were for Private Wes Shope, her fiancé, who is part of Bravo Battery in the 5th Battalion of the 113th Field Artillery Regiment. The battery is based in Winston-Salem.
“We got engaged on October 5,” Kerley said. “We went to middle school and high school together. We have been a couple for two months, but we have known each other 15 years.”
The deployment lasts a year. When Shope gets back home – to Asheville – the wedding preparations will be complete.
The battery is part of almost 400 North Carolina National Guard soldiers who prepared over the weekend for deployment. Ceremonies for other units in the 5th Battalion were being held in High Point, Greensboro, Louisburg and Reidsville.
The soldiers will be stationed in the Sinai, the peninsula that separates the main part of Egypt from Israel. Seized by Israel in the Six-Day War in 1967, the Sinai was returned to Egypt by the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.
The mission of the soldiers will be to observe and report on compliance with the treaty. Before leaving for Egypt, they will train at Camp Atterbury in Indiana. They will leave the country in early December and return to North Carolina in September 2013.
Staff Sgt. Benjamin Rutledge of Winston-Salem, a veteran of two deployments to Iraq, said the experience will be pivotal for soldiers who are making their first trip.
“Some of them will get on the plane as boys and get off as young men,” he said.
Private Fate Black, who is 20 and comes from Monroe, carried the guidon, or flag, of the unit during Saturday’s ceremony. He said he earned the honor by being the youngest and getting the highest physical training score.
Black has been in the guard for almost two years, but this is his first overseas deployment.
“I’m very, very excited,” he said. “I will be finally doing what everyone else has done so far.”
A lot of family members and loved ones in the audience had been thinking about the tension that has sparked the Middle East since beginning of Arab Spring in 2010, when a series of demonstrations and protests toppled governments throughout the region.
“I think about it all the time,” said Sarah Smith of Hickory, whose fiancé, Divus Moss, was among those preparing to leave. “They have been fighting over that peninsular area forever, so anything can happen.”
Staff Sgt. Matthew Karfit held his daughter Mariska, who is 5.
“It will be difficult, but it is just nine months and she will be OK,” he said. “She knows I’ve been gone with annual training and that I will be back, and she understands. I told her I would be back when she started first grade.”
Military leaders said during the ceremony that sometimes the soldiers have it easier than family members who have to stay home and wonder how their loved one is faring.
Trevelle Pone of Lumberton stood in his uniform after the ceremony holding his daughter, Avani, who is about 6 months old. He knows that when he gets back she will have taken her first step and may not know who he is.
“When I come back she will still be young enough to get to know me,” he said.