West Virginia ceremony honors deploying MPs
Bluefield Daily Telegraph, W.Va.
BLUEFIELD — An audience made up of family and friends of the 304th Military Police Company, U.S. Army Reserves stood and applauded as the soldiers entered the Mary Ruth Bartlett Auditorium of Bluefield High School. The applause continued until each soldier took a seat.
Pfc. Huey Ellis opened the ceremony by reading scripture from 2 Corinthians 1:2-4: “Grace be to you and peace from God our father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ,” he read. The soldiers had already bowed their heads during the scripture reading.
A color guard from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 9696, Bluefield, Va., posted colors for the service. The soldiers turned a quarter turn to the left as David Leedy, a Vietnam War veteran posted the U.S. flag. Lt. Jonathan Bradley brought the company to attention and ordered a salute before playing a recording of the “National Anthem.”
The soldiers of the 304th MP Company will travel to Texas this morning to begin the first phase of their year-long deployment to Afghanistan. During his remarks at the program, Col. Keith Pickens said the Army Reserves has improved in the way it approaches sending soldiers into a combat zone. “We have become so much better at this process than we were 10 years ago,” he said.
“It’s dangerous, and it takes a great deal of courage to do what your nation has called on you to do,” Pickens said. a portion of the message that Pickens delivered had to do with the kind of courage that it takes to go into battle. “It takes as much courage to go over a hill and see nothing as it does to go over a hill and be fired on,” he said.
But Pickens’ message wasn’t only about courage and appreciation for families for “sharing your loved ones with the rest of the nation.” He reminded the soldiers to avoid any conduct any potential problem involving sexuality. “Don’t go there. It will cause nothing but problems. You can have friends when you go down range,” but he urged the soldiers to do anything that would “allow those suspicions to seep into your company,” he said.
“Whoop!” he said. “Does everybody understand it?”
“Whoop,” the soldiers replied.
“Blessed be God, even the father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of mercies, and the God of all comfort,” Pfc. Ellis, read the third verse from Chapter 1, Second Corinthians.
“He’s not a chaplain,” Lt. Jerry Jones said. “He’s one of my soldiers.” Jones is a graduate of Towson State University in Towson, Md. While in school, he became friends with James P. Clements, now president of West Virginia University who helped put him on a great career path. During the 304th’s family picnic at the 4-H Camp at Glenwood Park, Jones reassuringly visited with family members of his soldiers. At the same time, his thoughts were on his own young daughter. “Maybe she’s young enough that she won’t remember me being gone this long,” he said.
Phil Lewis, a representative of U.S. Senator John D. “Jay” Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., read a letter from the senator who told the soldiers that they have the support of the state and nation. “May God bless and keep all of you,” Lewis read from Rockefeller’s letter.
“It is my great honor to deliver the heartfelt thanks on behalf of the directors and citizens of Bluefield to you for the sacrifice you are making for us,” Bluefield Mayor Linda Whalen said. “Today, soldiers, as a city we honor you. We are so proud of all of you and words can’t begin to express our gratitude for the service you are providing our country, and more personally, every person in this city,” she said.
“At every city board meeting, we will be praying for the Lord to protect you,” Whalen said. “We will be asking God to arm you with strength, to go ahead of you, to protect you and return you safely home,” she said.
Lt. Bradley served as master of ceremonies for the event. The last speaker he introduced was Captain Jared Peck, company commander. “I’ll be taking the unit down range,” Peck said. He expressed great pride in being able to look out on the soldiers of the 304th and their families. “You are all the 304th,” he said.
“To the families, your support is critical,” he said. He said that he could not promise that the deployment will be without challenges. Still, he vowed “to do everything I can to return these soldiers to their families,” he said. “To the soldiers ... Thank you.” He also told them to think of the welcome home ceremony when they return in July 2013.
“Whoop,” Peck said to the troops.
“Whoop,” the soldiers answered in unison.
“Whoop,” 14-month old Elizabeth Shumaker said, repeating the sound she had just heard from the soldiers. She said it loud enough to draw the attention of everyone seated near her in the audience. Her big brother, Spc. Dustin Shumaker, was among the troops she responded to.
“Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God,” Ellis read from 2 Corinthians before offering the convocation. All of the soldiers kept their heads bowed through the scripture reading and prayer.
At the conclusion of the formal ceremony, Peck dismissed the troops. The audience stood and applauded the soldiers as they left the auditorium in single file. The soldiers emerged from the auditorium to a flag-waving community, holding signs of support and presenting bows of yellow ribbon to each of the families and gift bags to each of the soldiers.