Soldiers say farewell to family and friends

Photo by Abby Morris-Frye
Members of "A Company of the 844th Engineer Battalion stationed in Gray march in for a farewell ceremony held at the Appalachian Fairgrounds Tuesday afternoon. The unit will be deployed for approximately 18 months in Iraq.

By Abby Morris-Frye
star staff

  GRAY -- Friends and family said farewell Tuesday afternoon to members of "A Company" of the 844th Engineer Battalion of the Tennessee Army National Guard during a ceremony held Tuesday afternoon at the Appalachian Fairgrounds.
  The company, known as the "A Team", has been mobilized and will soon depart for Camp Atterbury, Ind., where it will remain for approximately 30 to 60 days before deploying to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The group will remain on active duty status for approximately 18 months.
  During the ceremony, local community leaders and military officials spoke to the soldiers and family members present. "I'm very proud to stand here this afternoon as the commander of this battalion," said Lt.Col. Donato Dinelo. "Each and every one of you will be able to look back and tell your children and your grandchildren that you had a part in a piece of history."
  Maj.Gen. Alan Bell of the United States Army also spoke to the group about the importance of their mission. "You are going to ensure that a group of people on the other side of the world that you will never see again have freedom and enjoy the same liberties that we do," Bell said. "When you return, understand what you have been a part of. Yes we are there to hunt down and kill terrorists; there is no doubt about that, but the primary mission is to free a nation."
  Among the members of the A Team are two young soldiers from Carter County -- 19-year-old Pfc. Michael Everett and 20-year-old Sgt. Brian Wiggins -- both of whom are proud to be given the opportunity to serve their country.
  Everett said he is anticipating his deployment. "I just want to get it over with," he said as he laughed. "I've been waiting for the longest time. I just want to get there and back; that's all I'm really worried about."
  Everett, a 2003 graduate of Unaka High School, is also an expecting first-time father. His girlfriend is scheduled to deliver the baby -- which doctors believe is a little girl -- sometime in mid-to-late December. The couple, however, do not have a name picked out for their child. "We're still working on that," Everett said.
  When he first found out he was deploying, the idea of being shipped overseas startled Everett. "I was freaked out at first, but that's what I signed up for. I knew it was going to happen," he said. "I'll just tough it out and whatever happens happens."
  Everett's comrade in arms, Wiggins, also said that he expected the deployment. "I've been expecting it for a while. I joined knowing that I would probably end up going," he said.
  Wiggins, a 2002 graduate of Happy Valley High School, said that he is more concerned for the family he will be leaving behind than he is worried about what will happen to him. "I'm worried mainly about my family back home," he said. "My mom gets real worried about me. I know I'll be all right over there, but my mom doesn't think so."
  With one older brother and two younger sisters, Wiggins said his siblings have mixed emotions about him going. "My sisters kind of whine and complain about it, but my brother says that he is proud of me," he said. "He said he wishes he could go with me, but he recently got married."
  Wiggins' brother is not the only family member that is proud of him. "I'm just so proud of him," said Wiggins' mother Sheri Phillips. His grandmother, Marilyn Wiggins, expressed her concern for her grandson. "I'm not happy about it (his deployment)," she said. "We're worried about him but we know he will be all right."
  Dinelo said that the primary mission of the battalion will be to help rebuild the infrastructure of Iraq that has been "crumbling around a society" for the last decade. "This country has been deprived for 10 to 12 years now," he said. "The bridges need to be rebuilt; the road works need to be rebuilt."
  According to Dinelo, military engineers from the United States as well as engineers from the coalition forces, specifically Korea and England, are already at work in Iraq building schools and medical clinics.
  The soldiers of A Company are well equipped to help rebuild the country, Dinelo said. "The battalion itself is an Engineer Combat Battalion Heavy," he said. "What that means is that we have the technical capability to perform a myriad of civil engineering tasks, constructing roads, earthen works and defensive works as well as preparing buildings and doing what we call low-density construction skills such as plumbing, carpentry, masonry, electrical work, etc."
  The 844th Engineering Battalion, which has line companies in Gray, Greeneville and Chattanooga and is headquartered in Knoxville, was last ordered to active military service in 1990 as part of Operation Desert Storm.