Church gives sendoff to Guard member heading to Iraq

December 17, 2004|TODD KLEFFMAN

When Staff Sgt. Carroll Reardon gets his official National Guard sendoff tomorrow in Paducah he will have his warrior's face on. His shoes spit-polished and in his dress uniform, he will stand rigidly and salute crisply, eyes straight ahead. His superior officers will charge him up with talk of sacrifice and duty, and he will leave ready to take care of the tough business that lies ahead in Iraq.

But on Thursday night, Reardon was no gung-ho soldier. Dressed in bone-colored slacks and a casual sweater, he was - for the last time in a long time - simply "Brother Punkin," a beloved member of the Danville Church of God and an object of much worry, pride, prayers and tears, many of them his own.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared," Reardon told more than one church member who lined up for a hug. "But God's on my side. I'll be back."


Reardon, 43, was six months shy of retiring from the Guard when he finally got his first call-up to active duty. He is leaving Sunday, six days before Christmas, headed to Iraq with the 2113th National Guard Transportation Company based in Paducah, for a scheduled 18-month tour of duty. He is leaving a wife, four children and four grandchildren behind.

"They got my number just before my time was up," he said.

His wife Wanda Reardon said, "The timing is terrible. This is the first Christmas he won't be with his family. We're not even going to give gifts this year. We're just going to spend time together and pay some bills before he goes."

Long embraces and whispered prayers

About 75 family members and friends turned out at the church to see Reardon off. It was a potluck affair with chicken wings and chips and dip. And lots of long embraces, whispered prayers and emotions so raw they often couldn't be expressed without tearful pauses. A box of tissues circulated as people tried to choke out their farewells.

"I'm worried. I'm scared," said Reardon's daughter, Natasha Bryant, as she cradled her 3-month-old son Jacob in her arms. "I know he's got the Lord on his side. I know he's coming home. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared."

Bryant's comments were echoed often. The idea that Reardon would be watched over and protected from harm was repeated several times. But those expressions of faith were usually tempered in the next breath by the harsh reality presented by such a dangerous place as Iraq.

"I know God will take care of him once he gets over there, but there are things he hasn't seen before, like fighting and death," Wanda said. "I'm worried about how it will effect him emotionally. He's a very sensitive man."

In his nearly 20 years with the Guard, Reardon has been dispatched to help out in hurricanes, ice storms and other disasters often described as "war zones," but never to the real thing. And, as a member of a transportation company, he will have one of the more dangerous assignments -- hauling supplies for combat support.

"I was a mechanic for 19 years. Now they've turned me into a truck driver," he said.

There has been much talk lately about the danger of driving poorly armored vehicles along Iraq's deadly roads, where bombs and snipers have ambushed many soldiers. Reardon said he is convinced that the transport vehicles he is likely to be driving will soon be up to speed, and even if they aren't, he will still be safe.

"They're working on it," he said. "But the greatest armor I have is (that) the Lord told me 'No weapon formed against me shall prosper.'"

An active member of his church

Youth minister Jeff Finley said the church will miss Reardon, who has been a member of six years and serves as youth leader, usher and "bouncer."

"He's always active doing something," Finley said.

That involvement has created a bond among church members that is as close as family, Finley said, and explains why so many at Thursday's farewell were so emotional about Reardon's departure.

"It doesn't bother you so much when you see other people's kids and dads being sent off, but it's different when it's someone you know and love," Finley said.

"There's a possibility he won't come back, so it really hits you, it touches you."

Reardon was clearly moved by the show of support. He often broke down himself as people huddled around him to share their hopes and prayers for a safe return. But he would pull himself together and try to comfort those he is leaving behind.

"I'll just wake up one morning and I'll be home," he said.

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