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Familes say goodbye to soldiers

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By Calen McKinney

They file in, one by one, and face the crowd.

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The soldiers, dressed in camouflage, will leave their loved ones tomorrow. They will be gone until October.

But today, their friends and family have gathered to say goodbye. And they are being sent off in style.

Campbellsville's National Guard unit has been called to the Middle East.

Sgt. 1st Class Robbie Rogers, who serves in the unit, said 14 of the nearly 60 soldiers at the unit have been called to Jordan.

Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 623rd Field Artillery, known as "Morgan's Men," with units in Campbellsville, Glasgow, Monticello and Tompkinsville have been training for their mission in Jordan for several weeks.

A farewell ceremony for the 14 from the unit's Bravo Battery, based in Campbellsville, was Friday at Taylor County Elementary School. Many National Guard and local elected officials spoke and families gathered for what will be some of their last moments together for nearly a year.

The soldiers left Campbellsville for Mississippi early Saturday morning.

Staff Sgt. Chad Ubbelohde of Elizabethtown held his daughter, Hannah, 10 months old, during the ceremony. He has been deployed before, but says this time feels different.

"Little different now that I got a little girl," he said, holding Hannah. "And it's always hard for family."

Sgt. 1st Class Michael Hovious, originally from Campbellsville, closed his eyes and hugged his aunt, Diane Tucker, tightly as she told him goodbye. This also isn't his first deployment.

"As always, I love serving my country," he said. "It's a positive mission for us."

Hovious said the mission will give the unit a chance to send other soldiers, who have been in the Middle East a while, back home.

"I look forward to it," he said. "[But] it's hard being away from family. I'm ready to go do what we've got to do."

According to Rogers, the majority of the soldiers, including all of those from the Campbellsville post, are going to the Hashemite Kingdom in Jordan. A small group of soldiers is going to Kuwait.

The primary mission, he said, will be military-to-military training with the Jordanian Armed Forces.

"We're training them on the way the American military operates," he said. "We're the advisors to the training that's being conducted."

The deployment is expected to last nine months, Rogers said, with the group expected back in Campbellsville in October.

He said three-fourths of those deploying have been on similar missions before. And the majority of those deployed have more than 13 years of experience with the National Guard, he said, which means they are highly skilled.

Rogers said those deploying won't be facing any combat and aren't considered to be going into any danger.

"I feel, for the most part, they're all willing to go," he said.

And Rogers says the soldiers appear ready to go.

"I think they're ready to get started," he said. "That way we can get it under way and go do what we need to."

Rogers said Campbellsville's National Guard Armory won't be abandoned while members of the unit are in Jordan. Several soldiers will remain there in case state officials declare an emergency and need the unit to help.

On Friday, Lt. Col. Timothy Fanter, the commander of the 1st Battalion, 623rd Field Artillery, said the unit has the highest percentage of training of any of the National Guard soldiers mobilized.

"Because of this ... Bravo Battery has been tasked with a critical part of this mission, to advance the efforts of Operation Enduring Freedom."

Fanter said the soldiers will help the Jordanian troops learn to provide security.

"I'm proud of every soldier in Bravo Battery," he said. "It takes a community and family ... I would like to take this time to thank every one of you."

First Lt. Adam Jaggers, who will lead the unit on its mission, said it is an honor to do so. He said the soldiers and their family members will share in sacrifice to fulfill the mission.

"Our families are our core and our center," he said. "I have little doubt that there will be many challenges along the way."

Taylor County Judge/Executive Eddie Rogers thanked the soldiers for their service.

"We're gathered here to pay tribute and honor to our soldiers," he said. "We are proud of each and every one of you and your service to this country."

Rogers told the 14 soldiers to remember their communities support them and people will be thinking of them every day they are gone.

"Bless you and may God's hand protect you, cover you, guide you and lead you back home."

Campbellsville Mayor Tony Young thanked the soldiers for answering the call to serve their country.

"The sacrifice that you endure is recognized by the citizens of Campbellsville," he said. "We look forward to your safe return."

Captain Philip Majcher told the crowd that the unit must now focus on what will happen after they leave.

"For soldiers, we know the only constant is change," he said. "Things happen that we can't control. But we can control how we react."

The 14 soldiers who left on Saturday aren't the only ones from Campbellsville serving overseas.

Seven Campbellsville residents are in Africa, serving with a unit of nearly 600 Kentucky National Guard troops.

The seven were mobilized on Sept. 2 to report to the Bardstown National Guard unit before heading to Camp Atterbury in Indiana for training exercises.

The entire group, 565 soldiers, is at the Horn of Africa for a nine-month deployment. The soldiers' mission is to promote regional security and stability and to protect the United States' interests in the region.

Rogers said he hasn't heard how the mission in Africa is going but believes the group will be back home in June.

Before heading to Africa, the last time the unit was deployed, Rogers said, was in November 2004 for Operation Iraqi Freedom.