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Posted: Saturday, February 16th 2013 at 10:37pm

National Guard unit headed overseas for first time in 70 years

By Rob Moore Editor
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Utility workers hold a large American flag over Friday's parade route in downtown Elberton. (Photo/Rob Moore)
ELBERTON – Some 3,200 people turned out in downtown Elberton for a celebration and parade Friday afternoon.

Even though Monday is Presidents Day, the parade was not holiday in nature. Instead, it was to honor the 236 members of the 1st Battalion, 214th Field Artillery (1/214th) Georgia National Guard – the Granite Battalion – which is headquartered in Elberton.

The unit, under the command of Lt. Col. David Casey, will leave for Mississippi later this month, on its way to Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. The battalion staff is under the direction of Executive Officer Maj. Stephen Brown and Battalion Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Crowder.

Headquarters Battery, based in Elberton, is under the command of Capt. Mark McCall and Battery 1st Sgt. Bruce Pitts.

Battery A, headquartered in Winder, is commanded by Capt. Christopher Mincey and Battery 1st Sgt. Lloyd Fortson.

Battery B, located in Thomson, is commanded by 1st Lt. Brian Foster.

Battery C, based in Waynesboro, is commanded by 1st Lt. Michael Johnson.

During Friday’s ceremony, Elberton Mayor Larry Guest welcomed everyone to Elberton.

“I want you to know that we’re committed in this community to be praying for all of these young men and women, and for all of you,” Guest said.

Guest presented Casey with a proclamation from the City of Elberton.

Sgt. Maj. Jim Hussey (Ret.), field representative for U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, read a letter from Chambliss to the deploying soldiers, then presented that letter to Casey.

Similarly, Tate O’Rourke, Sen. Johnny Isakson’s regional director for northeast Georgia, read a letter to the troops gathered, also presenting that letter to Casey.

Bill Kokoly, Congressman Doug Collins’ field representative, addressed those gathered.

“As a retired master sergeant, I am pleased to see some of the finest soldiers and the finest military the planet has ever seen,” Kokoly said.

Kokoly delivered Collins’ regards, and read a letter to the unit before presenting a copy to Casey.

Rep. Tom McCall then addressed those gathered, saying he felt inadequate to speak to the National Guard personnel.

McCall said he looked up the word hero in the dictionary and found “one who is much admired or showing great courage.”

“You look around you today and that’s the definition of much admired,” McCall said. “What y’all are fixing to do is the definition of showing great courage.”

McCall presented Casey with a flag flown over the Capitol in honor of the 1/214th.

“I hope y’all with take it with you to remind you that the people in the state of Georgia are 150 percent behind the mission that y’all are doing there,” McCall said. “Most of all, I hope all of y’all bring it back.”

McCall also gave a “shout out” to his cousin, Capt. Mark McCall of Headquarters Battery, who is headed for his fourth deployment to Afghanistan.

“I hope all of y’all know that we’re behind you from the bottom of our heart," McCall said. "God bless America, God bless Georgia, and most of all God bless all of y’all.”

Adj. Gen. Jim Butterworth of Habersham County addressed his personnel.

“You all are the best trained organization going into the war fight, and that has been qualified, quantified – and as of two days ago, I certified it and turned you over to the United States Army to go serve your country in Afghanistan,” Butterworth said.

“I think you know that you have a very proud state and a very proud community,” Butterworth said. “We’re right behind you as you go into this adventure. … The only day that is better than today, my friends, is the day that we welcome every single one of you back home again.”

Butterworth shared two Scripture passages with the deploying troops.

“Ephesians 6:10: Remember this: the task ahead of you is never as great as the power behind you. Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power,” he said. “Joshua 1:9: Be strong and courageous. Do not have fear. Do not be discouraged. The Lord, your God, will be with you wherever you go.”

Butterworth then introduced Casey, who addressed those gathered.

“Thank you, Elbert County,” Casey said. “What a wonderful turnout!”

“The Granite Battalion shares a history and a lineage that’s second to none,” Casey said. “This battalion carries battle streamers from many significant U.S. campaigns, to include the Civil War, World War I and II, Operation Noble Eagle, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Many of those Granite veterans are here with us today, and I’d like to personally thank them for their service and for their continuing support of this Granite team. Once a Granite soldier, always a Granite soldier.”

Casey pointed out the significance of the unit’s deployment.

“Today, the 1/214th Battalion and its proud soldiers are set to make history yet again,” Casey said. “Not since World War II – nearly 70 years ago – has this Granite Battalion deployed overseas in a combat zone and flown our colors in the face of an enemy,” Casey said. “This spring, that will change. Our great nation for 11 years remains at war with an enemy that has no conscience, an enemy that despises the very freedom that we as Americans treasure so dearly.”

Casey looked ahead to the deployment, discussing its importance to eliminating terrorist regimes.

“The soldiers of this unit are tasked with a difficult mission,” Casey said. “This mission requires patience and restraint, but it also requires aggressiveness. We must be aggressive in our riddance of evil, and clear the way for those that seek peace and prosperity in a land that’s known nothing but war for so much of its storied existence.”

He also discussed the sacrifices made, not only by the 236 men and women of Granite Battalion, but also by the families.

“The soldiers here today leave behind families, friends, employers, and communities that deeply love them,” Casey said. “These soldiers willingly volunteered to assist a nation in the need of change and proudly wear the uniform and serve our great nation in a foreign land. As Americans, we live in the greatest country on the face of the earth. We enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness each and every day in ways that those in other countries can only dream of.”

“We all know as Americans that freedom is not free,” Casey said. “The war on terror and our commitment to our country to a safer, more peaceful world demands a price in service and sacrifice and today the men and women of the Granite Battalion, who come from every corner of this great state, are stepping forward – leaving the comforts of home, the security of family, to pay that price and answer the call to duty.”

Casey promised to look out for the soldiers in his command, again acknowledging their service and sacrifice.

“The days ahead will not be easy,” Casey said. “Uncertainty, danger, and great challenges will undoubtedly come our way. As commander of this battalion, I’m truly humbled daily by your service and devotion to a mission greater than self. We are grateful for the support of our nation, our state, and our community as we embark to do the nation’s work in a foreign sand. I’m always mindful that behind every soldier stands a family. Without that family support, we could not accomplish our mission.”

Casey reassured families the unit’s members are trained and equipped to accomplish the mission ahead, and will be ready when the time arrives.

“I want you to know that I hold no resource more valuable than the sons and daughters of this great nation,” Casey said. “I assure you our soldiers are receiving and will receive the best training, the best equipment, and the most support our nation can provide. Our soldiers are prepared and are purposed on the mission ahead. I have no doubt the Granite Battalion will accomplish its mission.”

In conclusion, Casey told the soldiers, “The time has now come, and the day is now upon us. We are at the line of departure. I now call upon the NCOs of this battalion to continue their efforts in paving the way for this battalion and leading us forward on our mission. As our battalion motto so clearly states, ‘We hear and strike.’”

The public event, which had started with lunch for deploying soldiers and their families at the Granite Bowl, then concluded with an assembly back in the Granite Bowl.
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