Community rallies 'round deploying engineers
April 24, 2008
Jessie Portes' brown eyes sparkled with unshed tears Saturday afternoon and she smiled as she watched more than 30 American flags sway lightly in a gentle breeze.
In front of her, in an open field on Lake Tholocco's West Beach, nearly three dozen members of the Patriot Guard Riders surrounded the Soldiers of B Company, 46th Engineer Battalion and pledged to support the company during its upcoming deployment to Iraq.
"We are here to support you," Patriot Guard Rider retired Staff Sgt. Carlos San Miguel said as he addressed the B Company Soldiers. "We thank you for your service."
San Miguel and his fellow Patriot Guard Riders were just one group of several that turned out in strength Saturday to show their support for the "Bravo Beast" Soldiers during a luau-themed, pre-deployment farewell party at Lake Tholocco.
"This is beautiful," Portes, the company's Family Readiness Group leader and event co-coordinator, said. "We worked so hard and it all came together."
Featuring free food, children's activities, music and Hawaiian entertainment, the party welcomed hundreds of B Co. Soldiers, friends and Family members to a "night to remember."
"(The Soldiers) go away for a year, away from Family, friends and everything they know, and we wanted them to have something good that they could remember for a long time," Portes said. "We want the Soldiers to know that we are here for them and we will go above and beyond to support them and make them happy."
Joining the Patriot Guard Riders Saturday to support and celebrate the B Co. Soldiers and Families were members of the Soldiers Angels organization. More than 20 Soldiers Angels members in attendance Saturday handed out care packages that included sheet sets, phone cards, fudge, flip flops and toiletries and provided materials for Family members to make special personalized pillow cases and blankets for the Soldiers to take with them to Iraq.
"We want to make sure that the (B Co.) Soldiers don't (deploy) and think they have been forgotten," Soldiers Angels member Lori Tucker said.
Tucker, who traveled from Birmingham to be a part of Saturday's event, said she hoped her team's support shows the engineer Soldiers just how much they are appreciated.
"We want the Soldiers to know that we love them and we support them completely," Tucker said. "We want them to know that if they ever need anything from us, they can contact our organization and we will be there for them and provide whatever they need."
Disc Jockeys from WZHT 105.7 out of Montgomery provided music for the luau at the lake. The DJs volunteered to help with the farewell party because they said they wanted to be part of the Soldiers' success in Iraq.
In addition to the volunteers on site at the luau, several area organizations also donated a variety of items including food, gift certificates and products to be raffled off during the event.
"This party wouldn't have been possible without the great support of the whole community," Portes said. "I have to say 'thank you' to the Wiregrass area and everybody for coming out and supporting our troops."
Bravo Beast Soldier Spc. Marques Sweet and his wife Kemba were surprised and appreciative of the outpouring of community support.
Kemba, a former Bravo Beast Soldier, said having so much support really emphasizes the importance of the job the engineers are about to do.
"This means a lot to me," Marques said. "To see Vietnam veterans and all these people out here supporting the company really makes me feel good."
Company command team Capt. Christopher Beal and 1st Sgt. Gregory Williams applauded the hard work of the luau planners and the support of the local community.
"This luau is a great opportunity for all the Soldiers and Family members to come together and have fun before the deployment," Williams said.
Beal said the Saturday party was a perfect way to celebrate the end of more than two months of serious and time consuming predeployment training.
"Within the last two months, we have done a lot of training that has taken away from some of the Family time," he said. "Tonight, we wanted to bring the whole unit together (to) let their hair down and have some fun."
The engineers are scheduled to depart Fort Rucker in June. Although the Soldiers haven't even started their deployment yet, some in attendance at the luau were already planning for the company's return.
"We want every one of them to go over (to Iraq), do their job and all come back safe and sound," San Miguel said.
Portes said plans are in the works for a welcome home party unlike anything the B Co. Soldiers and Families have ever experienced.
"It's going to be bigger than this," she said with a mischievous grin on her face. "It's going to be huge."