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Guard unit set to leave

There was a distinctly patriotic feeling in the air on Thursday night at the First Baptist Church's Family Life Center as the City of Greenville mounted a farewell dinner in honor of Greenville's Army National Guard unit.

With the unit about to be deployed overseas with the rest of the 117th, it proved an opportunity for city officials and others to say, "thank you" for those leaving jobs, homes and families behind to serve their country.

This is the first time the local guard unit has been deployed overseas since the Korean War.

Approximately 20 guardsmen and their family members, seated at tables festively decked out in red, white and blue, were treated to a buffet supper courtesy of Just Julie's Coffee Caf\u00E9. A number of city council members, county commissioners and other local dignitaries were also on hand for the celebratory occasion.

City Councilman Jeddo Bell served as the emcee for the evening. Bell introduced special guest speakers, including Senator Wendell Mitchell, Representative Charles Newton and Colonel Eric Cates, who shared words of appreciation for the guests of honor and their families.

"Some of the greatest lessons are drawn from analogies…in the Bible, Paul describes the Christian's battle as similar to a soldier's service, teaching us it is through Him we are prepared for life," Mitchell told the audience.

"Paul goes on to say, 'We do this because we are seeking peace.' We are thankful and grateful to you for your commitment as you ready for deployment. We are proud of your commitment and your service – because we all seek peace," Mitchell said.

Newton told the audience all too often the public forgets to show their appreciation for their citizen soldiers.

"Tonight, for your willingness to serve, we say, 'thank you.'

We also recognize the fact your families share in your sacrifice. We want you to know we appreciate you and your families, and we thank you for representing us," Newton said.

Cates asked all those who were being deployed to stand and be recognized, along with their family members.

"We want you to know we care. We care about you, your families, and the country you are going over there to support," Cates said.

He said this area's guardsmen were part of a "great tradition."

"I've deployed three times with this unit – and if I could pass the physical, I would be glad to mobilize again," the senior citizen said with a grin.

Cates reminded the guardsmen's families their loved ones "would come back from this experience changed."

"A few will be the worse, but most will be the better for it," he said.

He challenged the men to make the most of their time of service overseas.

"See it as an opportunity to develop leadership skills and become better citizens when you return, rather than as just 'time away,'" Cates said.

"When you get a new car or home, you take a pride of ownership in it. It's the same way when you serve your country – it means more to military people and veterans than it does to other people. I wish you

all the best. Godspeed, and know our thoughts and prayers are with you," Cates said.

Vocalist Sabrina Reynolds performed a dynamic patriotic trilogy, including

"America the Beautiful," "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" and "the Star-Spangled Banner," which brought tears to the eyes of many in attendance.

Mayor Dexter McLendon extended special thanks to his executive assistant, Barbara Philpot along with Mary Braden, director of Senior Services for the city and Mayor Pro-Tem Bell for all their work in organizing and presenting the dinner and program.

To the members of the guard unit, the mayor gave thanks "from the bottom of my heart."

"We appreciate what you do and what you stand for," McLendon said, before having members of the city council pass out New Testaments to each guardsmen present. The mayor also encouraged each of their family members to take one of his personal business cards with them, "so if you ever need my help, you can contact me."

"I want you and your wives, girlfriends and moms to know we are here to help them if they need us. We're serious about this," McLendon stressed.

Mayor McLendon also wants to encourage townspeople to turn out this Sunday morning to support the deploying guardsmen before they leave for Andalusia. Members of the 117th will gather between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. at the National Guard Armory tomorrow, with plans to leave promptly at 9 a.m.

"We want to ask anyone who can and will, to come out to the National Guard Armory on Sunday morning for a brief ceremony tentatively scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Come on out by 8:15 and bring your flags, your banners. Wear your red, white and blue and give these fellows a great Greenville sendoff," McLendon said.