Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

MISSION TO BOSNIA Guardsmen Get Heroes' Send-Off Families Bid Emotional Farewell to Peacekeepers

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

MISSION TO BOSNIA Guardsmen Get Heroes' Send-Off Families Bid Emotional Farewell to Peacekeepers

Article excerpt

DOUGLAS -- Lyndsey Parsons snuggled tightly against her daddy's chest -- burying her face in his camouflage uniform as he hugged her close yesterday.

"This is the toughest part right here, leaving her behind. I'm going to miss her so much," said Spc. Donald Parsons of Douglas, reaching up to gently brush a stray wisp of hair from the face of his 16-month-old daughter.

Nearby, 2nd. Lt. David Henderson of Midway was giving his 4-year-old son, Tommy, some last-minute instructions to be a good boy and look after the family.

"This is my first time going away for so long. We've trained hard, and I know that we're ready to carry out our mission. The hardest part is not seeing our families," Henderson said.

Parsons and Henderson are among 66 soldiers from Southeast Georgia in Company C 648th Engineer Battalion of the Georgia Army National Guard who are being deployed on a six-month peacekeeping mission in northern Bosnia.

The unit consisting of soldiers from Douglas, Waycross, Midway, Brunswick and Albany was given a warm community send-off by an enthusiastic crowd of about 75 people who gathered at the National Guard Armory.

Capt. Robert T. Utlaut, company commander, will lead the troops on their overseas assignment. Utlaut and other unit officers spent about two weeks last fall in Bosnia on a reconnaissance mission to prepare for the deployment. The unit has undergone weeks of specialized training at Fort Stewart near Savannah, where it expects to leave for Bosnia within a week to 10 days, Utlaut said.

The soldiers are skilled at operating a variety of military heavy equipment such as that used to dig fighting positions and check to ensure that minefields are clear of explosives.

"The overall situation has stabilized. We're going there to uphold the peace. Specifically, our mission is to audit minefields, and make sure that the mines have been removed. We also have a quick reaction force that will be able to assist the multinational peacekeeping force," Utlaut said.

Utlaut described troop morale as "very high," and said that the soldiers are eager to get to work.

"We ready to go over there and get the job done," he said.

Other members of the unit will serve at home.

Capt. John Davis will command 42 soldiers who are staying behind. In addition to training and continuing recruitment efforts, they will provide a variety of support services for the families of the troops overseas, Davis said.

"We're here to work with the families in any way possible. We'll answer questions and keep them and employers informed of the situation. That way the ones on deployment don't have to worry about what's happening with their families or their jobs while their gone," Davis said.

Sunlight broke through the clouds and poured through the mist-covered armory windows to bathe the soldiers in a pale rainbow-colored glow as they came to attention in full battle gear. …

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