CHRISTIANSBURG – Friends, family and community members got together at the Christiansburg Armory Thursday to say goodbye to a company of local soldiers as they prepared to leave for Iraq.
The Army National Guard Charlie Company 1-116th, based out the Armory, comprises 60 soldiers and is headed by Capt. Brandon Lindsey. Its soldiers are mainly from the New River Valley, Lindsey said. Thursday was the last day the soldiers spent in the NRV and the last time they would see their families until 2011, Lindsey said.
From there, the Company headed to Liberty University in Lynchburg, where units from around the state (including units in Lexington, Pulaski and Bedford), will participate in a farewell ceremony. Then the Company departed for Camp Shelby, Miss. for pre-deployment training and on to Southern Iraq, Lindsey said.
The toughest part of deployment is leaving your friends and family behind, said Lindsey, who spent 2005 in Iraq. However, there are many opportunities to communicate with the people you leave behind through the Internet, phone, letters, and video messaging, he said.
“The separation from your family is the hard part,” Lindsey said. “What’s good though is there’s a lot of communication.”
While it can be hard to leave loved ones behind, the soldiers will stay focused on their duties once they leave for training, said Michael Rindorf, Iraq veteran and Western Virginia regional director for the Virginia Wounded Warrior Program.
“As you look out, you can see little children running around playing and they’re happy, but in the back of your mind, you feel time is running out, and you try to do so many things in the last 24 hours before you leave,” Rindorf said. “It’s like you’ve got a checklist that’s so long that you can’t get everything done. And that weighs on you, but once they get down to Camp Shelby, their focus will quickly change towards their mission and their train-up and everything and they’ll be extremely focused on the mission at hand.”
Rindorf spent 2004 in Iraq and spent a total of 16 years in the Army before being honorably discharged and accepting the job with VWWP. Like the soldiers in Charlie Company 1-116th, Rindorf went as an infantryman, whose duties range from foot patrols to working with Iraqi police, he said.
“They’re always out in the presence to kind of deter any hostile acts,” Rindorf said.
Because of normal Army deployment rotations and President Obama’s recent surge to Afghanistan, about 30 percent of those deployed to Iraq are in the National or Army Reserves, Rindorf said.
Rindorf said his time in Baghdad was tough. His unit lost three men. However, he and Lindsey said they think conditions are improving.
“In ’05, it was definitely a little more dangerous,” Lindsey said. “But now, from what I gather from the news, it looks like the violence is down a lot. You still have instances where things happen, but even though it’s still dangerous, I think we can expect less danger than it was.”
Another benefit is that this will be the second or third tour in Iraq for most of the soldiers in his company, Lindsey said.
“Experience-wise, it’s great for the unit, because a lot of guys been there, done that,” Lindsey said.
Although their time in Iraq will not be easy, the soldiers could face other challenges when they come home, Rindorf said. The most common problems soldiers could face when they come home are Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and traumatic brain injuries, Rindorf said. His organization, VWWP, was established in 2008 to support veterans with these and other conditions that result from their deployments. It is important for returning soldiers to get treatment for these conditions as soon as possible, and VWWP can help, Rindorf said.
“It’s a long hard road that many people have gone through, and the best thing we can do is try to encourage them to seek help if they need help,” Rindorf said. “If they wait, it compounds on them.”
While the journey will be long and rough, Lindsey said he and his Company are grateful to have so much support from the community. “There are some parts of the United States where it’s tougher to be a soldier than others,” Lindsey said. “I think the New River Valley is one of the best places to be a soldier. If you go out, if you’re in uniform, somebody’s thanking you, somebody’s shaking your hand.”