Below is the story of one of our readers who went to Ft. Bragg to say goodbye to a paratrooper (a family friend in the 508th PIR):
A Farewell Trip to Fort Bragg
One of the highest honors of my life
Jay H. Miller- Dallas, Texas
Last week two of my closest friends and I made a road trip from Dallas to Fort Bragg, NC to witness the deployment of one's son to the Middle East. I've known the lad since he was chewing on table legs and a garden-variety house ape. In the ensuing 20 years I watched him grow into a fine young man, earn his Eagle Scout, graduate from a military institute, receive his commission as a Parachute Infantry officer and begin his career in the US Army. His dad is one of my closest, trusted friends and a highly decorated retired Special Forces colonel.
Our young 1st Lieutenant (whom for security reasons I will call "David") is a platoon leader with the 508 P.I.R (parachute infantry regiment) of the 82nd Airborne. He is also an Army Ranger. This is his first deployment.
We arrived at Bragg the day before David's unit was due to deploy. When we drove in, we learned that David's girlfriend had come down with the flu and he was busy taking care of her. I suspect her illness was due in no small part to pre-partum emotions but she (a medical student) pulled herself together in time to see him off. We took David and his roommate (an artillery officer who's already served one tour in Iraq) out for a steak and beer supper. Both young men were simply amazing. They were so mature but so young. So strong but still so smooth. So intelligent but yet so innocent. I hadn't been addressed as "Sir" so much in my life!
The unit was due to assemble at 0200 the next morning. We weren't sure we would be able to see David again but he told us that the Army decided it was okay for loved ones to come down to the fort and see them off from the company area (but not all the way to the airfield). His dad, a veteran of many such deployments, was surprised that civilians would be allowed to witness such an event. David asked us to come and we were glad to have the chance to be there. Their movement orders were for 0400 with a 0900 flight so we headed back to the hotel for a few hours of sleep.
We drove to the company area at 0200 and found the men in their barracks getting squared away. We also saw they were surrounded by members of their families who'd some to see them off. David's company commander (with his two toddler sons hugging his legs) greeted us and saluted David's father. The captain was about David's age and it was also his first deployment.
Surrounded by soldiers with their weapons and gear, the men eagerly showed us their tools and, being "gun nuts," we were treated to an unprecedented display. Although they obviously were not issued live ammo, their ordnance was quite formidable. It precisely defined the old slogan "cocked and locked."
We met the company first sergeant, a 15-year Army veteran with two combat tours under his belt. "Top" was barely over five feet tall (I am 6'2") and looked to be all of 18! But what he lacked in stature he made up for in demeanor. David's dad had met him before and acknowledged to me that the man was completely and squarely in charge.
We visited with the other members of David's platoon as they continued to ready their gear. Many of the men were starting their second tour but for most, it was their first deployment. They all looked so young. The oldest appearing was David's platoon sergeant - a Ranger instructor- who'd been with him at Ranger school. He looked like someone you would not want to run into in an alley and I thought that was just fine. Cradling his M-16 carbine with one hand and his wife with the other, it was a picture of cool professionalism and confident leadership.
As the clock ticked toward 0400, the men began moving out to the assembly area. Somebody remembered they needed slings for the carbines so the supply sergeants started passing them out and the troops quickly attached them to their weapons. To a man, they were ready.
At 0400, the Top called for formation and started calling last names off the manifest then ordered them to get on the busses after they said their final goodbyes. As each man responded to his name, the mood changed from informal to very much more military. The men - officers included- sounded-off with their first name, social, finished with a smart "First Sergeant!" and fell out.
Young love, being a powerful potion, David and his girlfriend shared a private moment. He then turned to his dad, smartly saluted, shook his hand and gave him a hug. He turned to me, did the same and I freely admit I had to turn away for a moment. I glanced at his father, a man I have admired and trusted for almost 30 years. He sniffled and said, "Damn. It sure is cold out here."
As the formation dwindled and the troops boarded the busses for the airfield, we made our way back through the barracks. Some small dramas still played out as tears flowed and children clung to their daddies.
We looked in the company office one last time and noticed the big calendar on the wall. Today was circled in red and someone had written "Go To War" on the date. Next to it was an 82nd Airborne sticker shouting "Sleep well tonight - the 82nd Airborne is On Point."
On our way back to the hotel, I decided there were two ways most Americans would recall this event. The defeatist Democrat (is there any other kind) would say "This is just horrible sending these poor babies to war and stripping them from their families." The patriot would say "These young men are truly our National Treasure and I cannot support them if I do not support their mission."
I have all the confidence in the world and an unshakable faith in God that David will come home safely, his mission accomplished and America will be safer for it.
I also had one final thought: I had just received one of the highest honors in my life.
Postscript: We received word (via the girlfriend of course) that David and his men arrived safely at their operating base 48 hours later.