Guard Soldiers Depart For Training
12/07/09 7:34AM By Steve Zind  Download MP3
(Host) 300 Vermont National Guard soldiers left for training in Indiana over the weekend.
For them and the 1,200 army guard members who'll follow, it's the final training stop before they deploy to Afghanistan early next year.
VPR's Steve Zind reports.
(Zind) It's a scene that's been repeated many times in recent years: Vermonters going off to war. There are tears and brave faces, families take photos and stand in circles with their arms linked.
There's music by a small band of guard members, speeches by elected leaders and words from Vermont Guard Adjutant General Michael Dubie. Dubie often talks about the sacrifices Vermonters made during the Civil War. This time he added a note from the very recent past.
(Dubie) "All of us heard the president speak this week about the critical time and critical mission facing not just America but the world in Afghanistan. And like 150 years ago, you troopers in front of us are an example of Vermont will do its full duty."
(Zind) The 1,500 soldiers destined for Afghanistan spent part of the fall at Camp Polk in Mississippi before returning to Vermont. Now they go to Camp Atterbury in Indiana. There they'll train with members of their brigade from other parts of the country.
About 60 percent of these soldiers have taken part in past deployments, but it's the first time for Rob Fitch-McCollough, who's standing with his arms around his girlfriend Ashleigh McCrory. She's feeling understandably anxious about the next year.
(McCrory) "Nervous. Apprehensive. But Rob makes me feel a lot better. He's a lot more calm about the whole thing, so it makes me feel a lot better."
(Zind) Soldiers like Fitch-McCollough are ending a two week break in their training. It's been time spent with family - and enjoying little indulgences that will be a world away once they get to Afghanistan.
(Fitch McCollough) "Gravy fries! (laughter) Eating a lot of good food, I guess.
(McCrory) "And spend a lot of time together."
(Zind) It's also the first deployment for Sean Fernandez. He's 19 and joined the guard right out of Hartford High School.
(Sean Fernandez) "We get a lot of advice from the older guys in our unit. Other than that, I don't know of many people in my family that have been in the guard."
(Zind) "What's the most important piece of advice the older guys have given you?"
(Fernandez) "Don't be a hero. That's the biggest one. Work as a team."
(Zind) Fernandez is standing with his mother Joanne and his dad Tom who live in White River. Their sendoff for Sean was a family dinner for 55 held in a rented hall last weekend.
As they stand together waiting for ceremony to begin and waiting to watch their son to climb on plane to Indiana, Tom Fernandez expresses what the hundreds of other family members here today are likely feeling as well.
(Tom Fernandez) "Just a little nervous. Pray every day, I guess."
(Zind) The Fernandezes and other guard families will have one more brief time together over the holidays before the Vermonters start shipping off to Afghanistan.
For VPR news, I'm Steve Zind in Burlington.