WHEELING - Some fought back tears as they walked slowly toward the buses. Others held their loved ones tight for a few seconds more before heading out of Wheeling. But most all of the 160 members of the U.S. Army National Guard's 305th Military Police headquartered in Wheeling, left on deployment knowing their families will be OK until they return.
That's because the U.S. Army has enlisted a new way of thinking when it comes to preparing its troops for combat. And that thinking is geared toward a more holistic approach to military service, said Staff Sgt. Josh Pempek.
That approach includes the Family Readiness Group which helps fill the gap for families while their loved ones are serving on active duty. The 305th is headed to Afghanistan for an undisclosed amount of time.
troops with the 305th MP Army Reserve Unit in the Claytor neighborhood of Wheeling march to their buses shortly after hundreds of family members and friends turned out Saturday morning to show their support.
Photos by Scott McCloskey
For Pempek, this tour of duty marks his third deployment. While that doesn't make it any easier for him or his family, Pempek said he's grateful for the Family Readiness Group.
"I can go knowing that the family group is there to help ... enforcing family values," Pempek said.
Steve Sacco of Wheeling, who has been in the Guard for four years, is heading off to his first overseas deployment. His wife Kelly heads up the local Family Readiness Group which provides hands-on support to families as they wait for their loved ones to return home. That includes Christmas parties for children and other holiday-related activities.
"I've been through a lot of training and that has to be my focus. I am 100 percent confident the unit will all be back," Sacco said. "I'm able to focus on what I have to do because I know my family will be OK."
Sacco said reservists have always been referred to as "citizen soldiers" because they aren't always on active deployment. Yet, at a moment's notice, Guard members drop what they are doing and answer the call of duty.
Lynn Emerson, administrator for the unit, said the Army "has come on board," recognizing that a soldier is more than a military man. He is a family man, too."
That thinking equates to better communication between troops and their families through computer hook-ups and other instant communication. That alone has drastically improved morale at home and on deployment, Emerson offered.
She said 9/11 proved a turning point for the military. Unlike the treatment of Vietnam War veterans, today's troops are provided heroes' welcomes wherever they go because the entire nation has embraced the military for its fight against terrorists.
"Even if people don't support the war, they support the troops," Kelly Sacco noted.
Emerson said when members of the 305 return from active duty, they will go through the Yellow Ribbon Seven Steps which include family informational sessions that explain benefits and other issues such as dealing with post traumatic stress syndrome.
On Saturday, hundreds of people lined the streets surrounding the Army National Guard Center in the Clator area of Wheeling. They waved flags, displayed signs with messages of love and hope, and did their best to show the men and women of the 305 that people do care.
As one bystander said, "We'll be here when they come back, too."