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The war in Iraq continued its impact on the Toledo area yesterday as members of another local Ohio National Guard unit said good-bye to their families as they prepared for overseas deployment that could last a year or more.
Members of the 104-soldier unit - the 216th Engineer Battalion s Company C - were honored at a public ceremony held at Owens Community College before leaving for Camp Atterburg, Ind. Later this month they will depart for an undisclosed assignment in the Middle East, officials said.
The ceremony was attended by a number of dignitaries who addressed the soldiers.
Said U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo): “We stand with you in every possible way. You are builders, and you are going to help us put the pieces of a peaceful world together.”
Miss Kaptur presented an American flag to the company s leader, Capt. Mark Stepuk, which will be flown at the unit s Walbridge post until the soldiers return. A similar gesture was made by Miss Kaptur last year when members of the guard s 323rd Military Police Company of Toledo left for Iraq. That unit returned last month unscathed, Miss Kaptur noted.
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In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and subsequent campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, 5,000 Ohio reservists have been called to active duty in the past 28 months. About 1,100 soldiers are being activated from the state during the current call-up that includes Company C.
“Respond when called and be ready,” General Smith said, evoking the Ohio Guard s slogan.
Captain Stepuk said his unit is up for the challenge.
“I know we will face hard times overseas. Everything we do is based on teamwork, and that is what is going to make us successful.”
The event filled the college s student health and activities center with family members and friends who waved miniature American flags and gave numerous rousing cheers throughout the 45-minute ceremony.
For the soldiers, it was an emotional event that put into focus the fact that they will be leaving their families for an unknown length of time and will be traveling to a hostile environment.
Pfc. Martin Sanders, 19, a Bowling Green State University freshman who was married a few months ago, said he did not expect an overseas assignment when he signed up for the guard. “[But] you have to do what you have to do.”
Sgt. Donnale Williams left active duty in August after a six-year stint in Washington, and resettled with his family in his native Toledo, where he works for Wal-Mart.
“I wasn t expecting it, but my training has prepared me for this situation,” he said.
Left behind are his wife, Katie Williams; sons, Christopher, 11, and Donnale, Jr., 2; and his mother, Diana Stewart.
Mrs. Stewart was not thrilled that her son volunteered for the guard so soon after leaving active duty.
“I m very proud of him, but I have a big hole in my heart,” she said.
Mrs. Williams said she was not surprised by her husband s commitment.
“It s in his blood.”