The cars on Wrightsboro Road whizzed by on the crisp autumn Sunday, quickly passing the outdoor military ceremony and the group of civilian soldiers parting for a war on terrorism.
From the road, it could have looked like any other military observance, one possibly honoring a casualty of war from a time gone by. Near the stage, though, it was a life-changing event for members of the unit, including Chief Warrant Officer Jesus Antonio Oliveras.
As a member of the Army Reserve's 319th Transportation Company in Augusta and a civilian tasking specialist for the Army, he was leaving his family behind. He also remembered the images of Sept. 11, 2001 - the day he lost his cousin, 33-year-old Michael Trinidad, a worker in the World Trade Center.
"I guess this is in a way my part," he said, crunching fallen leaveswith his freshly shined boots as tears welled in his eyes.
On Sunday, Chief Warrant Officer Oliveras and 24 members of his unit were given a farewell ceremony by colleagues, friends and family on the front lawn of Augusta's Army Reserve Center.
Today, the unit will be deployed to Fort Stewart near Savannah, Ga., to await orders as part of President Bush's Enduring Freedom Operation against terrorism. The 25 soldiers in the reserve unit, which totals 130, were officially called to active duty Friday.
During Sunday's ceremony, the unit was praised for its service to the country.
"Today, you're being activated to fight the war against terrorism, and this city will be forever grateful," Mayor Bob Young said.
The last time the unit was called to duty was during the Persian Gulf War a decade ago. This time, officials said the unit would be gone for an estimated nine to 12 months.
After hugging his family goodbye Sunday, Staff Sgt. Tony Blair, who works in civilian life as a forklift driver for Thermal Ceramics, said the day was "good on one hand and bad on another." Still, he said he had faith in his team of fellow soldiers. And, while looking to her husband with a tearful smile, Annie Blair called it a willing sacrifice for freedom.
"They say we live in a free country, but freedom costs so much," she said.
Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 828-3904 or email@example.com.