Texas National Guard engineers say farewell to loved ones

The 454th Engineer Company colors are cased during a mobilization ceremony at the McNease Convention Center in San Angelo, Texas, Feb. 19, 2014.
The 454th Engineer Company colors are cased during a mobilization ceremony at the McNease Convention Center in San Angelo, Texas, Feb. 19, 2014. The San Angelo based engineer company will be deploying to Afghanistan to perform route clearance mission patrols and is the only company of this type within the Texas Army National Guard. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Private 1st Class Shannon Gatta/Released)

Story by: Pfc. Shannon Gatta, 454th Engineer

Company Public Affairs

 SAN ANGELO, Texas - Leaders with the Texas Army National Guard, together with friends and family, said goodbye and  good luck to members of 454th Engineer Company during a mobilization ceremony at the McNease Convention Center, in  San Angelo, Texas, Feb. 19, 2014. 

 The approximately 100 soldiers deploying to Afghanistan, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, will provide route  clearance missions with convoys and dismounted patrols, in order to detect and interrogate buried roadside bombs and other  explosive devices. 

 Just one of a handful of route clearance mission teams within the entire National Guard and the only one within the Texas  Army National Guard, the company has a potentially dangerous mission to ensure the remainder of the forces can move  freely around the battlefield. 

 “Our mission stands out as unique and vital one for the stability and safety of the Afghani people,” said Staff Sgt. Melissa  Wofford, medic noncommissioned officer with the company. “We are one of very few route clearance units in the country and  the very first to deploy with females like myself. I’m here to do the job that is needed and to support and protect my [fellow]  soldiers as well as to carry out the mission at hand.” 

With hundreds of loved ones attending the deployment ceremony to wish their loved ones well, friends and family arrived to the Concho Valley from across the state and even as far away as another country. For the only son of retired Army veteran Sgt. 1st Class Steven Alsept and his wife, the trip from Yongsan, South Korea, not only showed support for their son, Lt. Raymond Alsept, but came with advice on the eve of his first deployment. 

"[He said] listen to my NCOs," Lt. Alsept explains. "I have the final decision in our platoon but it's the NCOs that sway the decision [for me] tremendously."

Along with the focused training that each individual has received for their military occupational specialty, all of the soldiers have been through various trainings to include gunnery, medical, combative, explosive and field training in the past few months to be well-prepared for any mission given. 

This deployment to Afghanistan will mark the first overseas mission for the San Angelo-based company and an opportunity to represent the state of Texas.

“This multifaceted mission allows the National Guard’s citizen-soldiers to prove how diverse it is and be a recognizable force alongside our active duty counterparts,” said Capt. Eric Leatherman, commander of the company. 

The traditional formation of soldiers, casing of the colors, and a final salute from leadership to the company commander signified their mission a-go and served as a reminder of the absence, from friends and family, which lies ahead. 

Guest speakers, such as U.S. House of Representatives Congressman Mike Conaway, Col. Patrick Hamilton, Domestic Operations commander, Texas Military Forces, Col. Tracey Norris, 176th Engineer Brigade commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. Jimmy Leonard, 111th Engineer Battalion command sergeant major, were among those who came to show their gratitude and encouragement for those soldiers and their families.

The company will undergo further training at Fort Bliss in El Paso before leaving for Afghanistan this spring.