In tearful send-off, Mass. Guard unit mobilizes for Iraq
Friends, family say goodbye to 101st Engineer Battalion
By Nandini Jayakrishna
Globe Correspondent / June 14, 2009
Waving flags and holding red and blue balloons, proud friends and family members bade farewell yesterday to a Massachusetts National Guard unit preparing for deployment to Iraq.
"It's exciting to be part of history," Captain Paul A. Barnett, 38, a chaplain in the 101st Engineer Battalion, said before the unit's send-off ceremony on a dock at the Charlestown Navy Yard.
"We are doing something not only for our generation but for the generations to come, and not only for our country but for the world."
With the USS Constitution, the Navy's storied frigate, as a backdrop, Major General Joseph C. Carter, the Guard's adjutant general, told the 180 soldiers to continue their battalion's legacy of devotion and sacrifice.
"Always place the mission first," he said. "Never accept defeat. Never surrender. And never, never, never leave an American serviceman behind."
Specialist Kristen L. Cunha, 28, said that she will miss her 9-year-old son, Tyler, and 6-year-old daughter, Kayla, as she follows her lifelong dream of serving in the Army, but that she knows her husband supports her decision and will do his best to care for the family in her absence.
Failing to control his tears, Cunha's husband, Adalto, 40, a truck driver, said he was extremely proud of his wife and looked forward to hearing from her. When Tyler and Kayla cry for their mother, he said, he will do his best to console them.
"I'll tell them, 'Your mom has not gone just for herself, but for all of us,' " he said.
One of the oldest units in the Army, the 101st has fought in six major conflicts, from the Revolution to the current war on terrorism. Eight of its soldiers have received the Medal of Honor, the country's highest military decoration.
Governor Deval Patrick also lauded the soldiers, who have been training for several months for their deployment, for their devotion to the country and asked them to draw inspiration from the Constitution, the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world.
"What a glorious morning to recognize and acknowledge glorious service," Patrick said in his brief remarks. "Take inspiration from this ship, as we do from you."
Barnett, who hails from Wareham and fought in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, said leaving his family is the hardest part of his job.
But he said that soldiers develop strong bonds that allow them to get through adversity together.
"We laugh, we joke, we play music," he said. "Just like kids in the candy store, we find something to keep us laughing."
His mother, Rita J. Barnett, said seeing her son ship out a second time is just as difficult as it was 18 years ago.
"I'm feeling weak, numb," she said. "Don't make me cry."
"I have my Kleenex right here," she added, laughing and patting her blouse.
Barnett's sister said she was proud of her brother but worried about him.
"I want him to come back, mind, body, soul," said Robin L. Barnett, 34.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than half of the state's 8,000 guardsmen have been deployed overseas to countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait.
The exact date and time of the unit's departure for Operation Iraqi Freedom were not disclosed by officials.
Watch out for each other and come home safely.