875th Prepares to Say Goodbye to Family, Friends

July 19, 2006 - Posted at 6:17 p.m. CDT

JONESBORO, AR -- As the war in Iraq rages on, it's an emotional week as Region 8 soldiers mobilize for departure. As members of the Arkansas National Guard 875th Engineer Battalion get ready to leave Saturday, many families are preparing to say goodbye.

The 875th Engineer Battalion is based out of Jonesboro with units in Paragould, Harrisburg and Marked Tree.

On Saturday they leave for Fort McCrory, Wisconsin where they'll train for a few months before they deploy to Iraq for at least a year. Around 400 soldiers will leave Saturday....something they've known was coming for a while.

"I've prepared for this, I've been in the National Guard for 20 years," said Sgt. First Class Tony Davis, "I've always known this was a possibility and it's hard to say your prepared for something like this because I guess you are never really fully prepared for it."

Davis will leave behind his wife Shelley and his daughters Lindsey and Macey.  He hopes to be back in time for Lindsey's high school graduation in the spring.

"It's still going to be difficult to be away from them. I've never been away from them this long before, I have been separated for a month or two, but not this long, so it's going to be difficult," said Davis.

The 875th has a family support group that meets once a month, helping loved ones left behind get by.

"One of the things we do, part of each of the companies will be discussion of money management.  Learning how to reduce cost with what your income is. So we will do all that we can on our behalf to make sure that that family is not on a hardship," said Command Sgt. Major Billy Ward.

"I think it's tougher on them.  I think I'll have the easy job.  Because once we get over there we are told what to do and how to do it or at least we are trained, not necessarily told.  Our wives just have to make it up as they go," said Sgt. Patrick Hart who will leave behind his wife and four children.

Several events are planned to honor members of the 875th battalion before they leave on Saturday.

Thursday night members of the 875th and their immediate family are being honored with a private appreciation dinner at the ASU Convocation Center.

Also Thursday at 9:00 p.m. a send-off party will be held in the Atkins Celebration Hall... the old Belk's building at 101 South Pruitt Street in Paragould.

The troops will leave Saturday for Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. They'll depart in three different waves.  The first group will leave from the National Guard Armory at ASU at 7:30 Saturday Morning....Another group will leave from there at 9:00. The third group will leave from Paragould at 12:30.  Community members plan to line Highway 49 in support of the caravan.