Emotional sendoff for soldiers heading overseas

March 8, 2012 5:18:34 PM PST
Sixteen members of the Illinois National Guard were honored with a special ceremony at the North Riverside National Guard armory Thursday as they prepare to deploy to Afghanistan.

"Sad leaving my family behind, but I got to go in order to keep them safe," said Specialist Carlos Colon, who is about to embark on his first tour of duty. "I understand the job I have to do."

"We got lucky, six years without a deployment. At the end we almost got out but they got us before we did," said Mirarie Colon, Carlos' wife.

The soldiers, who are part of the 244th Army Liaison Team, will help solidify and formalize the border between southern Afghanistan and Pakistan. It's a sieve-like pathway whose tightening up is critical to the US and NATO mission in Afghanistan.

"In Afghanistan, there are no safe missions," said Maj. Gen. William Enyart, Illinois National Guard.

After two month's training at Camp Shelby in Mississippi, the men and women will ship off to war nearly 7,000 miles away.

Sgt. Darrell Rouse will be leaving behind a wife and a 12-year-old son.

"There has definitely been a sense of dread, but like I said, I know this is a mission he has to go adn complete so I'm ready for him to go and complete the mission and come home safely," said Michelle Rouse, wife.

"He is awesome," said Darryl Rouse Jr. of his father. "He is my hero."

The formalities included a promotion for the leader of the 244th, Staff Sergeant Aaron Gentille. The ceremony meant it was time for the troop leader to get his emotions in check.

"Duty calls," said Gentille. "It is something that you have to reach down inside and say that you have to go ahead and do it."

The soldiers are expected to be back in the Chicago area late next winter.