Community plans salute for 776th troops

By Thomas Wilson

   Yellow ribbons adorn Elizabethton as signs of love and longing for the members of the 776th Maintenance Company of the Tennessee Army National Guard whose members depart Elizabethton tomorrow morning to Fort Campbell, Ky.
   Where they will be sent from there has not been officially announced by military brass. However, gathering clouds of discontent in Iraq suggest National Guard troops may be visiting -- or, for some, revisiting -- a destination where American military personnel traveled over 12 years ago.
   As a tribute to military sons and daughters, the community has planned a parade to salute 776th Guard members on Thursday morning beginning at 7:45 a.m. at the National Guard Armory. Local officials will make presentations of support and appreciation to 776th commander Capt. Larry Northcutt at 7:45 a.m. Thursday at the National Guard Armory.
   A convoy of guard members are scheduled to leave the armory at approximately 8:15 a.m. Thursday. After leaving the armory grounds, the convoy will travel down U.S. Highway 91 onto U.S. Highway 19E. The troops will then turn right onto East Elk Avenue and follow it through downtown Elizabethton to West Elk Avenue.
   Members of the Elizabethton Police Deparment, Carter County Sheriff's Department and Tennessee Highway Patrol will escort the guard convoy through town.
   "We will be blocking the downtown area off to allow the 776th to go through the West Elk Avenue route," said Roger Deal, Elizabethton chief of police. "Motorists won't be able to get through downtown. We will be blocking it off at 8 a.m. until it is over at approximately 9:30 a.m.
   "We're calling in extra personnel with help from the sheriff's department, and we will only allow the necessary vehicles in," he said.
   Sheriff John Henson said Tuesday he and Deal arranged the logistics for the parade.
   "Our deputies, the constables and reserve officers will be out manning the intersections for the convoy," said Henson.
   The Color Guard of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #2186 along with local veterans and veterans' organizations will salute guard members as they pass the post during the parade.
   The convoy will be divided in three elements leaving 30 minutes apart. The first convoy is expected to pass the Veterans Monument on East Elk Avenue at 8:20 a.m., according to the schedule provided by parade organizers. The final convoy element is scheduled to depart the city at 9:40 a.m..
   Headquartered in Elizabethton with a detachment in Mountain City, the 175 soldiers with the 776th were mobilized for active duty on Jan. 22. The company provides support and mechanical maintenance for almost all wheeled military vehicles ranging from jeeps to utility vehicles.
   Pictures drawn by third- and fourth-grade students at city and county schools will be presented to the unit by county Superintendent Dallas Williams and city assistant director of schools Rondald Taylor.
   Presentations are scheduled by county executives Dale Fair and Dick Grayson of Carter and Johnson counties as well as Elizabethton Mayor Sam LaPorte and Mayor Pro Tem Sam Shipley.
   State Sen. Dewey "Rusty" Crowe and state Rep. Jerome Cochran will present a state proclamation and Tennessee State flag to the company.