Largest overseas deployment since WW II begins

The Baltimore Sun

Some smiled, giddily waving American flags and offering up rose-cheeked babies to kiss goodbye. Others wore faces of fear, disappointed, if not angry, that the war in Iraq was now calling up one of their own.

Despite political divisions in an increasingly polarized war, families and loved ones of 140 departing citizen soldiers from Maryland united yesterday in an emotional farewell in a Pikesville armory.

The guardsmen heading toward Iraq this day were drawn from the 58th Infantry Brigade Combat Team's headquarters unit, the first wave in what will become the state's largest overseas deployment since World War II.

By the end of June, 1,300 soldiers from the Maryland Guard will have left for a yearlong combat tour.

For some, the historic call-up felt like a long-awaited patriotic opportunity had finally come.

"I'm a 9/11 recruit," said 2nd Lt. Mary Kim, 34, of Ellicott City, whose brother served in Iraq as a reservist. "I didn't know enough about how to join the fight until I found the Guard.

A more reserved Young Kim expressed concern about her daughter's tour of duty.

"I didn't want it, but she wanted it," Young Kim said.

Among the speakers yesterday at the armory were Gov. Martin O'Malley and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who pledged that the guardsmen's families would be cared for during the deployment. Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, an Iraq war veteran, reminded the soldiers standing at attention to keep their focus on the mission.

As the hourlong goodbye ceremony filled with pomp ended, friends slapped each other on the back and then gave hugs.

Mothers reluctantly called out "See you soon!" to proud sons. Tearful wives clung to uniformed husbands as the soldiers started to board buses for six weeks of training in New Jersey and moved a step closer to an Iraq conflict that is entering its fifth year.

But others expressed what had once been largely unheard - a deep antipathy about the war and a nagging question about the worth of their military service in its name.

"The time has come to pull them all out," Sgt. Christine Hamilton, 45, a federal government worker, said of the American troops in Iraq.

Family members expressed concern about the impact of the deployment on Hamilton's heath, including her chronic back problems.

She said she is anxious about the care of her college-age daughter and 23-year-old son, who has suddenly been put in charge of her Fort Washington home.

Echoing those concerns, Sgt. Jeremy DeHaven, 26, of Hanover, Pa., said simply: "I don't want to go."

Yesterday, he held his 21-month-old daughter Alexis as his mother carried Natalie, his 3-month old.

His wife, Erica, 22, wondered what life will be like once her husband is gone and she is left alone, more than a half-hour away from her closest relatives.

"Of course, I think about his safety first," she said.

DeHaven's mother, Gale, said she is struggling to reconcile her son's impending deployment with her own experience during the Vietnam War. "I think about all of our casualties, I think about all of the other people over there who have died," she said. "But sometimes as a mother, you have to raise them and then trust them and let them go."

There is a subtle somberness that often envelops these deployment ceremonies. Gone are the pep rallies that took place before the invasion in favor of a more somber reflection on the dangers of the U.S. occupation in Iraq, now four years old.

The costs are clear: As of yesterday, 3,327 U.S. service members had died in Iraq and more than 23,000 had been injured.

Maryland politicians talked yesterday about the importance of military service, but none made explicit mention about how to end the conflict.

The Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate passed a war spending bill yesterday that would require that a withdrawal of troops from Iraq begin by Oct. 1, with a goal of a complete pullout six months later. The House passed the measure a day earlier. President Bush has pledged to veto the legislation.

Service abroad is nothing new for Maryland's part-time soldiers and airmen. On top of the latest call-up, about 380 members of the Maryland National Guard are currently deployed. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, more than 5,200 members of the Maryland National Guard have been mobilized.

Standing yesterday in the wings of the cavernous armory was a group of World War II veterans.

Joseph Moscati, 80, of Reisterstown, who served in the military for 21 years, praised "the way these soldiers are fighting to preserve all the freedoms we have."

He called World War II "a war of national purpose." Iraq, he said, also is a war of purpose.

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