Elizabethton soldier says good-bye before deployment to Iraq

Aimee Richardson is pictured with her husband, Daryl, and daughter, Kennedy. Richardson will be deployed to Iraq later this month with the 278th Regimental Combat Team. She has been home on leave, visiting her family. The 278th will be honored on Veterans Day with a send-off celebration at Camp Shelby, Miss.

By Rozella Hardin
star staff

  When Aimee Richardson joined the National Guard almost four years ago, she thought it the safest place to be. "But, that's not right," she said Monday as she prepared to leave for Mississippi -- the last stop on her deployment to Iraq.
  The Elizabethton mother is one of more than 3,000 members of the 278th Regimental Combat Team, which is expected to be deployed to Iraq before month's end.
  Richardson leaves today for Mississippi, after a ten-day break with family and friends in Elizabethton. The unit, based out of Knoxville, has been training in Mississippi and California since June.
  The 278th will replace the North Carolina 30th Infantry Brigade along the Iran-Iraq border in northeast Iraq. It is the largest single deployment of Volunteer State soldiers since World War II.
  Richardson, a six-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, served as Elizabethton High School's Assistant Softball Coach last year. She was a student at ETSU, studying for a degree in physical education, before her unit was activated in May. She also worked with the school's football team. "I have certainly missed the team this fall, although I did get to see them play Friday night," she said.
  The 32-year-old soldier is a medic with the 278th and will be driving an ambulance while in Iraq. "I've just been relaxing, eating a lot of good food, and visiting family and friends while I've been home. The hardest part is saying good-bye, especially to my daughter, Kennedy, who will be eight years old when I return home. I will miss a whole year of being with her," Richardson said, noting that her tour of duty in Iraq will be for one year. "But, I'll believe that when I'm on a plane coming home. It's subject to always change with the military," she exclaimed.
  Richardson, who hopes to finish her schooling and become a teacher when she returns home, only lacked her student teaching when activated.
  "I joined the National Guard because I wanted to try something different; to see how a different branch of the military worked. Now, I know," she said.
  However, Richardson has no regrets about her military service. "I think we're doing a really good humanitarian service in Iraq. Most soldiers know when they enlist there is the possibility of war. No soldier wants to go to war, but if we're called, we're ready and willing," she said.
  About Iraq, Richardson said from what she has learned, the insurgents are a minority. "Most of the Iraqis do appreciate what America has done there. I do feel like things will get worse with the elections coming up in January. However, I think things will calm down after that, when a government is in place," she opined.
  Richardson has a brother-in-law already serving in Iraq with the First Cavalry.
  While she's away at war, Richardson is depending on her husband, Daryl, to be a good "mother" to their daughter, who is a first-grader at Valley Forge Elementary School. "It's going to kill me to leave her, but I know between my husband, mother and grandmother, she will be well taken care of while I'm gone," she assured both us and herself.
  Her family celebrated Thanksgiving while she was home. "My grandmother cooked a big Thanksgiving dinner a couple of Sundays ago, and she's been feeding me gravy and biscuits every morning," Richardson said.
  Richardson is the daughter of Eleanor Rambo of Elizabethton and William Honeycutt of Bluff City. Her grandparents are Bill and Mae Honeycutt of Bluff City and Sam and Ann Smith of Elizabethton.