By Vince Little, The BayonetApril 16, 2010
FORT BENNING, Ga. - The 13th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion\'s Headquarters and Headquarters Company shoved off Monday for a yearlong deployment to Iraq in which the unit will "virtually complete" President Barack Obama's directive to withdraw U.S. forces and equipment, the battalion commander said.
Just a year-and-a-half removed from its last homecoming, the company sent more than 75 Soldiers to Joint Base Balad, about 40 miles north of Baghdad, where it becomes the command and control body for 10 other companies, including maintenance, quartermaster, personnel and services elements.
The company will spend the next 12 months pushing Soldiers, equipment and containers from Iraq down into Kuwait, said LTC Anthony Bohn, the 13th CSSB commander.
"The mission that lay before this headquarters is historic in proportion," he said. "This headquarters is going to plan, execute and virtually complete the president's directive of moving U.S. forces and equipment out of Iraq ... It's been seven years in the making. This will not be an easy task."
Last year, Obama announced a pullout date of Dec. 31, 2011, for all U.S. troops.
Bohn said most of the Soldiers are still around from the company's 15-month Iraq deployment that ended in late 2008, which made for a relatively short "dwell time" in between.
"That's hard - hard on families and hard on the Soldiers," he said, "but they stand ready to do the mission."
Family and friends gathered outside the battalion headquarters building Monday afternoon for a farewell marked by plenty of hugs, well wishes and tears. The Soldiers then boarded two buses bound for Lawson Army Airfield.
The largest send-off belonged to SGT Frank Solia and his wife, Fetolofai, a specialist, both of whom are deploying. About two dozen family members turned out to say goodbye, along with the couple's three children - Masina, 10, Frank Jr., 3, and 9-month-old Marley.
"It means a lot they're supportive of us. It gives us peace of mind knowing they'll take care of our kids," said Frank, who's making a third Iraq deployment while his wife geared up for her first. "It's real hard because we're family-oriented. Leaving our family is a hard thing to do."
Fetolofai said they'd rely on "faith in God" and family support to get through.
"We just want to get the job done and come back," she said.
1LT Venson Walker, officer in charge of supply services for the battalion, was off to Iraq for the second time and said this mission will help the country establish order for the long term. His wife, Jacqueline, waved a small American flag while keeping an eye on their three small children - ages 7, 4 and 18 months.
"It puts strain on your spouse having to take care of the kids while you're gone," Walker said of the deployment. "I know I'm leaving her in a tough position."
Jacqueline said the family will stay in constant contact but the separation would be especially difficult on their youngest, daughter Gabriela.
"She's a Daddy's little girl," Jacqueline said. "It will be a challenge for me, seeing her ask for Daddy, and he's not home."
The Soldiers face a far different task than the combat operations they conducted in prior deployments for Operation Iraqi Freedom, said CPT Travis Tribble, the battalion's support operations officer.
"We will execute the drawdown of Iraq," he said. "Everybody is anxious to get over there for the mission and get the ball rolling."
Tribble, a Columbus High School graduate, was joined at the farewell by his wife, Heather, who's due to give birth to a baby girl in 10 weeks.
"I'm sad but happy at the same time," she said. "This is what the Army does. It's their job ... This is what we signed up for.
"The family support group here is very good. We're gonna be OK."
Two other companies under the 13th CSSB are headed downrange in the next couple of months, as both the 598th Maintenance Company and 104th Transportation Company will deploy to Afghanistan.