ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - As the 173 Soldiers of the 1729th Field Support Maintenance Company, Maryland National Guard, prepared to board buses to take them away for year-long deployment to Iraq, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley reminded them of their legacy.
"Not only do you carry with you the legacy of Marylanders from the Battle of Brooklyn, to North Point, to Normandy, and points and places in between and to the present, you also carry with you the prayers and the best intentions of the people of our state. I am here on their behalf to say thank you to you. Your greatness is your service. All of us deeply appreciate what you are doing and we can never hope to repay you enough," O'Malley said.
The standing-room-only gathering of Family and friends of the Havre de Grace-based unit erupted in applause.
O'Malley was joined on the dais by The Adjutant General of the Maryland National Guard Maj. Gen James A. Adkins, and 1729th FSMC commander, 1st Lt. Kenneth A. Forsythe III, who prosaically described what he saw from his vantage at the podium.
"I see leaders and representatives from other installations and organization, whose influence can be seen from the school house [where] many of us have received training, to electronic communications devices upon which we will rely," he said.
"I see officials we have elected to lead our towns, states and nations. As we step out of our homeland role and into our federal mission I want you to know the training we have received and the lessons we have learned through the inauguration, the Preakness, Katrina and the Snowmageddon last year, and countless other events, has already become evident in the training we have accomplished, it can only help us in our upcoming missions," Forsythe continued.
"I see people here who comprise the support organizations, family assistance centers, the USO, the VFW and all the rest. The help that you provide will become invaluable to us in the next few months.
"Finally, I see you, Soldiers of the 1729th FSMC. Individually, we are all Soldiers who have raised our hand sometime in the last decade, and we've taken an oath to protect this great nation. We each have a great many skills, likes and passions. Collectively, we form the greatest maintenance support team ever assembled. You have proved it at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., the national maintenance training center at Camp Dodge, Iowa, and your homes in your state shops in your communities and your garages and back yards," Forsythe said, describing himself as a humble man who sees his unit as his family.
Adkins' comments were short but heartfelt.
"Not since World War II has so much been asked of the Guard. And you could not do what our Nation asks us to do without the support of your Families, your communities, your friends, your employers.
"Thank them for me," he said.
"And to the Families that are here today - from where I sit you have the toughest job, as you keep the household going. Know that you're part of a greater Guard Family. Never, never hesitate to reach out and touch us and ask for help."
Adkins then introduced the governor, and the 500-plus crowd ecstatically welcomed him.
"I have two thank yous, and one prayer," the governor began. "The first thank you goes to the dedicated and courageous Soldiers of the 1729th who we send off today."
Again, the crowd packed into the Maj. Gen.Warren D. Hodges Armory erupted in applause.
"Thank you number two is to all of you, to the Families of our Soldiers in the Maryland National Guard. General Adkins is right, our Guard has never been called upon in a time of conflict to do more and to go further away on more deployments than ever before in our history.
"And to the kids that are here: You better make sure that you write to your moms and dads all the time, you send them pictures, and you let them know that you love them every day.
"We're all in this together," O'Malley said.
"As I thank our Families for what you are doing, and what you will do over the course of this deployment, my prayer is this: Not only God bless the United States of America, but God bless and protect each and every one of you, that he watch over you and that bring you back to us safely and quickly."
The 1729th FSMC is now undergoing mission training and synchronization at Fort Hood, Texas, and will soon deploy as part of Operation New Dawn.