LAURINBURG — More than 200 family members and friends of the soldiers of the North Carolina National Guard’s 151st Engineer Company sent them off in a mobilization ceremony on Tuesday.
The ceremony was held in Avinger Auditorium at St. Andrews University, where the 93 company members were addressed by their commanding officers in preparation for deployment to Afghanistan. The company, based in Laurinburg’s National Guard Armory, is comprised of soldiers from throughout North Carolina, many of them from Scotland and neighboring counties.
“At least once a month, all of these men call Laurinburg home,” said Laurinburg Mayor Tommy Parker. “We’re certainly proud of you, and glad that you call Laurinburg home. You are going in harm’s way because we enjoy freedom in this country as a result of your efforts. We wouldn’t have the freedom we have without the commitment of our military.
“My only wish is that you go there to proudly honor your country and come home safely,” he said.
The company will serve as a route clearance company in the southern region of Afghanistan, clearing supply and patrol routes for multinational forces stationed there. For nearly half of the company’s soldiers, this is not their first deployment.
“If you look out among these soldiers, you will see that we have some of the most experienced combat engineers in the state,” said Capt. Thomas Grabos, the company’s commander. “Our ranks are filled with talented and competent NCOs and officers. Fifty percent of these soldiers in this company have deployment experience — many of them have conducted route clearance missions before, and there’s a strong mix between Iraq and Afghanistan. These veterans have helped mentor and guide our soldiers for this upcoming fight.”
Col. Ronnie Coats, assistant adjutant general for the North Carolina National Guard, spoke of the debt of gratitude owed by the National Guard to its soldiers’ support networks at home, particularly family members and employers.
“North Carolina is a small business state and I could only imagine, if I was an employer, knowing that these soldiers right here are some of the very best employees that they have,” Coats said. “Seeing them go, and it’s longer than a year considering the training and everything that you have gone through in prepping for this mission, we appreciate what the employers do for our team. It allows this state and this great nation to continue to be who and what we are: the greatest nation on Earth.”
Two National Guard rituals were observed during the ceremony. Adjutant Gen.l Maj. Gergory Lusk handed Grabos a North Carolina flag to be flown over the unit’s headquarters in Afghanistan and returned upon the completion of the mission. Also, Segt.t Tommy Pope delivered a rendition of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” complete with a unified salute from all of the company’s soldiers.