Residents and city government officials joined military families Saturday morning in saying farewell to 22 members of the 363rd Quartermaster Battalion, an Army Reserve unit headquartered across the street from City Hall. The soldiers will join the over 100,000 foreign civilian and military personnel working to stabilize Iraq.
The farewell ceremony took place at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3413, which was filled to capacity – an unusually large send-off for so small a military unit. Mayor Susan Narvaiz and City Council members Gaylord Bose, Pam Couch and Chris Jones were in attendance.
“I want to say to the families, I’ve been in your shoes and I have sent a spouse and son away to faraway lands to do the work that they want to do,” Narvaiz said during her speech. “I know you’re going to have hard moments, but what I also know is that it is us that they hold on to when they’re over there. And it is us that will hold on to you while you’re here going through this time. We make that commitment to you very strongly here in San Marcos.”
Karen Ledoux, brigadier general, gave a speech in which she thanked and praised military families for sharing their loved ones “with our nation and our army.” Ledoux lauded soldiers for answering their government’s call, and reminded them of the responsibilities that come with wearing a US Army uniform.
“We’ve each seen numerous examples throughout history of soldiers…whose judgment or action positively or negatively impacted the world’s view of the United States,” Ledoux said. “So as a deployed soldier, each one of you are ambassadors, a representative of the United States of America, it’s people and our values. I’m confident that the 363rd will represent us well.”
Aaron L. Preston, Rudy Mesa and Michael W. Davis of San Marcos number among the over 4,000 US troops killed in Iraq since 2003. At least 30,000 US troops have been wounded in the conflict.
Sergeant Richard Frazer is among those about to leave for the Middle East. He said it will not be his first time in Iraq: he helped coordinate convoys near Baghdad for a year. Frazer said the 363rd will be a rear operations center during the upcoming deployment, but he and his comrades will probably not find out what their jobs will be until they are in the country. Frazer said such uncertainty makes for an interesting job.
“You get to learn new stuff, and if you’re good at it, it can give you some really good opportunities once you get back home,” Frazer said. “I had found something really nice right before this came up, but this came up, so…”
Ledoux said after the ceremony that she tries to meet all the returning military units as they disembark. She said a welcome home ceremony occurs 90 days after their arrival. She advises military families awaiting the return of their loved ones to “develop networks” with their neighborhood or church, or with other military families, and utilize services provided by the unit’s family readiness group.
“I think San Marcos is doing a great job, as evidenced by all the support they give us,” Ledoux said. “I know that the Mayor’s office has been very involved with this deployment, and has stayed in contact with the command for this unit. That’s been good – having that ability to, if you have a problem, to take it straight to the mayor.”
Sergeant and Intelligence Officer Darrick Nelson is among those deploying to Iraq. His father, Darrell Nelson, said he may stay in Kuwait an additional year.
“He’s very proud of the work that they’re doing over there and he stands behind all that the government has taught him, and he’s been able to do good for the people of Iraq,” said Nelson.
Nelson said the advice he gives his son is “the same advice all parents give their kids.”
“Keep your head down,” Nelson said. “Keep your head down, be safe, don’t take any risks, come home soon.”
by Sean Batura
(pictures by Sean Batura)