Nearly 240 men and women of a Georgia National Guard battalion marched in formation Friday through downtown Elberton as throngs of people lined the streets.
A nearly cloudless sky, a warm breeze and a bright sun embraced the afternoon.
Men and women holding cameras, waving U.S. flags and carrying babies and toddlers encircled the soldiers as they stood before a podium to hear speeches of gratitude and farewell. Yellow balloons floated gently skyward, then drifted far away.
These soldiers of the 214th Field Artillery Battalion based in Elbert County are soon going to war in Afghanistan. Although the unit is based in Elberton its soldiers come from all parts of Georgia including nearly 20 from Augusta, officials say.
“I think we’ll all remember this for the rest of our lives,” Lt. David Casey said about the small-town gathering as he spoke to the soldiers who stood silently at attention in their gray camouflage uniforms.
“As commander of this battalion, I’m humbled daily by your service and devotion to a mission greater than self,” said Casey, one of the ranking officers for the 124th.
Casey also spoke of their impending journey to Afghanistan, where “uncertainties, dangers and great challenges undoubtedly come our way.”
Hundreds of people turned out in Elberton to send the troops away in a show of support, including Georgia Adjutant Gen. Jim Butterworth, who commended their worthiness.
“You all are the best-trained organization going into the war fight,” he said. “As of two days ago, I certified it and turned you over to the United States Army to go serve in Afghanistan. I wish you Godspeed.”
Elberton Mayor Larry Guest, who read a proclamation dedicated to the soldiers, asked the community to be in prayer as these men and women are deployed.
Some attended the send-off parade because they have family members leaving.
“My cousin is in this platoon, and I just wanted to be here to support him,” said Michael Lowe of Franklin County. “I think it’s a great thing to support them and let them know you care.”