In 1941, the Harrodsburg guard unit, attached to the 192nd Tank Battalion, fought in the Philippines in World War II. The unit was captured when Gen. Joseph Wainwright was forced to surrender after several months of desperate fighting, and lost more than half its members during the Bataan Death March in April 1942. Since that time, no Harrodsburg unit has deployed overseas for battle, with the exception of individual unit members who volunteered to be attached to other units, according to a Kentucky National Guard history of the unit.
Christopher Gladin of Louisville recently completed his Advanced Individual Training, but said he knew all along he might be deployed at any time. "We have a mission that we've trained for, and I am prepared to go," he said. "I don't think anyone looks forward to going, but we do what we're trained to do."
Major General Donald C. Storm, Kentucky's Adjutant General and commander of the state's National Guard, told the group of 37 men and eight women he was proud of them, and he promised the Guard would take care of their families. Local dignitaries were on hand as well to offer their thanks and well wishes, but the attention of the crowd stayed mostly on the unit members, arrayed at attention in the middle of the armory.
After the speeches, the members of the unit were sought by family and friends for emotional hugs and kisses.
Layton and Sue Curtis of Danville were there to see their son, David, before he left.
"You just trust in their training and hope for the best," said Layton Curtis. "We're very proud of him, but we're also very apprehensive. It's an unsettled situation over there."
Julie Howell said goodbye to husband Bill, a Perryville city councilman and Lebanon police officer, as he held one of their four-year-old twins on his hip. Their 10-month-old held onto his leg.
"You deal with it," she said. "He was in the Navy when we married 10 years ago, but this is different. The children don't understand where Dad is going. They think he's going to be gone a few days or so, so I'm sure we'll keep answering that question until he comes home."
The return date has yet to be announced, but the Department of Defense issued a directive last fall implementing 12-month deployments for most units.
Jennifer Tudor of Lancaster said her husband, Anthony, had never been overseas.
"They were deployed for a couple of months for training and stuff like that, but never for anything like this," she said. "He's been in the Guard for seven years, and this separation will be tough on both of us."
One couple, Staff Sgts. James and Staci Dean of Bedford, won't be apart during the deployment; both serve in the 1103rd. "We don't talk about being in danger or anything like that," said James Dean. "I do worry about her, as my wife, going overseas, but I also know she received the same training as I did and is very competent."
"You have to trust in your training and your orders," said Staci Dean, who said she is outranked by her husband by time and grade, but not at home. "It's a double-edged sword in that it's comforting to know he's there with me, but it's frightening to think something could happen to both of us."
For other couples, however, the separation comes at the beginning of their marriage.
"We were going to get married in March, but when the orders came down we decided to go ahead and do it," said Margie Serna, talking about her husband, Specialist Kristofer M. Serna of Radcliffe. "We've been married about a month and a half. It's rough, but we'll get through it. I just can't wait until he gets home."
The 217th, a water purification unit from Danville, is currently in Iraq serving as a split unit. One group is expected to return in April, the other in May.
Harrodsburg Mayor Lonnie Campbell, whose son-in-law is currently serving in Iraq, and city commissioner Jack Springate planned to lead a police escort early this morning to accompany the unit to Bluegrass Airport in Lexington.
When they come home, members of the unit have a mission of a different sort.
After Mercer Judge-Executive John Trisler and Campbell presented American and Kentucky flags to the unit to carry to Iraq, Trisler asked a favor.
"You can bring this back to us when you return safely," he said.