76th Brigade Departs
Sgt. Shane Pudgett hugs his wife goodbye as his son, Bryce, age 5, sheds a tear Jan. 2 at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis. This is the largest Indiana National Guard deployment since World War II, with more than 3,400 Soldiers from about 30 Indiana comm... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Army News Service, Jan. 8, 2008) -- The RCA Dome has crowned five NCAA championships and stood home to the Indianapolis Colts, but on Jan. 2, the dome hosted the largest going away party in Indiana's history.

"I've heard this place referred to as the 'Hall of Heroes' before," said Colts President Bill Polian, "but those heroes don't wear the numbered sports jerseys; instead, they choose to wear the uniforms and insignia of Indiana's finest, the American Soldier."

Along with the Colts, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and the state of Indiana paid tribute to Hoosiers assigned to the 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team before the more than 3,400 Soldiers departed on their journey that will take them to Iraq and back.

Packing stands along the dome's eastern half, thousands of loved ones and supporters braved cold weather and choked back swells of emotion to see off one of the largest deployments in Indiana since World War II.

Deploying in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the brigade is both prepared for the mission and proud to be part of it, said the 76th IBCT commander, Col. Courtney Carr.

"The Nighthawks are proud and fortunate to be Hoosiers," Col. Carr said. "We've chosen to be Soldiers, knowing that the nation would call us to serve. For a great number of us here, this is not the first call, but we continue to choose the path of service to our nation."

As Soldiers unloaded duffels bags onto the field, many of them gave their last, tearful goodbyes to friends and relatives.

"For the next year, meals, sporting events, homework, doctor appointments and etcetera will fall completely on the families," Col. Carr said. "But for many families, normal routines will be a little more difficult. Your strength at home, leading the family, and your support of our Soldiers and our mission is also a critical strength to our force.

"What you all do allows us the opportunity to choose to be Soldiers," he added.

Christina Adams, who attended the departure ceremony, said that she is fortunate to be a part of the Indiana National Guard family. Last Saturday, she married Pfc. Jeremy Adams as a final gift to him before he deploys.

"For this organization, family comes first, and it means a lot to have all these people and programs that support our family available to us," she said.

The brigade will begin its journey today to Fort Stewart, Ga., where they will complete a rigorous and immersive training routine prior to deploying to Iraq.

"Right now our main focus is getting everyone prepped and trained to move one step at a time," said 2nd Lt. Justin Newett, a member of the brigade's E Company, 1st Battalion, 151st Infantry Regiment.

This will be the lieutenant's first overseas deployment. "I'm not nervous yet, but as we get closer to Iraq I guess we'll get to that. But right now I'm just concentrating on getting to Georgia to train," he said.

Col. Carr assured many families that the brigade will receive some of the best and most comprehensive training available. "There is a clear relationship between well-trained, professional Soldiers and units and how successful they are in combat," he said. "The training that we've worked so hard to complete ensures that every one of the Soldiers in front of you has the training to execute the missions to which we'll be assigned.

Gov. Daniels credited the state's adjutant general, Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger, with once again preparing and sustaining a professional fighting force capable of defending Americans' freedom.

"You are my first appointment in this deployment, and I have not made a better one," he said.

Gov. Daniels also addressed members of the brigade, praising them for their service and sacrifices. "You are the finest citizens of our state, and the finest citizens of our era," he said.

(Rob Cooper writes for the Crier newspaper at Camp Atterbury, Ind.)