Furlough Ends for 875th; Unit Returns to Wisconsin Before Deploying to Iraq

SEPTEMBER 21, 2006 - Posted at 4:06 p.m. CDT

JONESBORO, AR - We know Operation Freedom Furlough was a success, but until today we never saw the true meaning that it brought to family members of the Arkansas National Guard's 875th Engineers Battalion.

Family, friends and members of the Region 8 community came together this morning for a pair of great send-offs for the northeast Arkansas-based soldiers.

It was an early start as members of the American Legion and other volunteers showed up at 3 a.m. at the ASU Armory to start cooking breakfast for the departing soldiers.  "It's not only the troops.  We are feeding the families for breakfast as well," said Captain Brian Mason.  "I think there are over 500 breakfast meals prepared.  We couldn't have done anything without the help of the local volunteers."

As the soldiers headed out to load the chartered buses that will take them back to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, they were subject of warm and heartfelt farewells from many supporters.  "We're here as a family to support him, and let him know we are here," said Bruce Ruffin of his relative in the 875th.  "It's a reality and it's going to be tough."

With a dangerous deployment to Iraq waiting in the very near future as the unit's Alpha and Bravo companies left Jonesboro's Indian Stadium parking lot this morning, family members were unsure of when they'd be in contact with their loved ones again.  "I don't know...I don't think he knows.  We've got a close-knit family, and we've got God, and we know he can watch over him a lot better than we can," said Ruffin.

The 875th's Charlie Company also got a similar send-off this morning from Paragould's National Guard Armory.  Buses pulled out from both locations shortly after 8 a.m., and then rendevouzed at the intersection of U.S. 412 and Arkansas 49 in Paragould before making their way north to Wisconsin.