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Departure of 296th brings mixed emotions

I watched the deployment of the Army Reserve’s 296thTransportation Company Saturday with mixed emotions.

I was proud to see another well-trained unit of fine local menand women going to support their country, and I was trapped in thememories of just more than a decade ago when I might have beenamong them.

Twelve years ago in January, I stood on the deck of the USSTarawa, a Navy ship used to land Marines on hostile foreign shores,looking across the water. Somewhere beyond the horizon was thecoast of Kuwait.

Just over a week ago, Jan. 15, we marked the twelfth anniversaryof the beginning of the ground war with Iraq.

Twelve years ago on that day, I was among a convoy oftank-killers rapidly driving Iraqi forces across the rocky, desertlandscape and back into their own borders. At times, the smoke fromburning oil wells was so thick the Kuwaiti countryside layblanketed in perpetual night — a blackness so heavy you could notsee your hand before your eyes.

Fortunately, the war was a quick one and there were fewcasualties on the allied side.

Memories of my nine months “in country” as part of OperationsDesert Shield/Storm continued to cascade through my consciousnessSaturday as I wished the soldiers of the 296th a brief, successfuland safe mission as they returned to the area where I hadfought.

I watched as a ghost in the crowd as soldiers hugged theirfamilies close to them, exchanging tearful goodbyes with theirwives or husbands, children, parents, and other relatives andfriends who came to see them off.

I must admit I envied them for the time they had with theirfamilies before they deployed. Mine was a rushed affair with notime to bid farewell to family. One day I was in Yuma, Ariz., andthe next at Camp Pendleton, Calif. My second day in California wasspent checking in and out at the base and carrying my sea bag ofequipment aboard the Tarawa. We put to sea the morning of my thirdCalifornia day.

Families should cherish the time of coming to terms with a lovedone’s departure. When they return, those will be wonderful memoriesto hold dear to the heart. Should they not return …. well, thememories will be the last of their loved one, and those should bememories of good times — full of joy and laughter.

The soldiers left with high spirits. They, too, will miss theirfamilies, but they understand they have a mission to perform. Theywant to perform it well for their loved ones at home. It is for thelove of their country and families that they serve.

I will, perhaps, never understand why it is that men and womenadventuresome enough to join the service get excited about theprospect of deployment, only that it holds true among them all.Maybe it is the idea of challenging the unknown or traveling to anew culture and country.

And that excitement does not diminish when you are no longerrequired to answer the call. I still felt the stirring in my bloodSaturday that has always been with me. “Hand me a rifle and I willgo with you,” I felt like telling the unit’s commander.

Those days are behind me now, however, but my heart goes withthe men and women of the 296th and with the others who are leavingfor or serving overseas.

Semper Fidelis.

Write to Scott Tynes at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven, Miss.39602.