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A farewell for heroes: Kilgore sends off members of Texas National Guard unit to Afghanistan

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Posted: Sunday, April 7, 2013 4:00 am | Updated: 7:12 am, Sun Apr 7, 2013.

KILGORE — More than 100 American flags lined U.S. 259 and Henderson Boulevard on Saturday, welcoming the 110 soldiers of Bravo Company and their families to a deployment ceremony and picnic before they left for Afghanistan.

The Bravo Company 3rd Battalion of the 144th Infantry Regiment of the Texas Army National Guard is based in Kilgore, and dozens of residents pitched in Saturday to give the company a fitting send-off.

About 30 members of the company are East Texans.

“Thank you all for choosing to be here today. Thank you all for giving us a proper send-off before we make the trip overseas into harm’s way,” said Bravo Company commanding officer Cap. Rodney Robinson.

“The ever-changing battlefield now requires us to be smarter, stronger and more flexible than our forefathers. Soldiers make the Army strong, and the soldiers standing before you today make the finest this nation has to offer.”

The National Guard soldiers were honored in a ceremony in Kilgore College Master’s Gymnasium that also included the official issuing of the guards’ orders. The guardsmen were then treated, along with their families, to a smorgasbord of free food provided by Kilgore residents.

Katrina Reneau, of Big Sandy, who attended the ceremony with her fiancé, Spc. Aaron Aga and her son, Rylan, 3, said she was touched by the gesture of the community.

“I’m very glad they did this for them,” Reneau said.

Aga said he is the last of his brothers to be deployed and that the year spent in Afghanistan will be his first tour.

The Bravo Company will spend a year in Afghanistan providing support for Operation Enduring Freedom after time spent domestically training for the operation.

Alexandra and Paul Hostler, of Fort Worth, who attended the ceremony with their son, Spc. Allen Hostler, said the support would be important as he went oversees.

“You better believe it,” Paul Hostler said.

The ceremony included speeches from state Rep. David Simpson, Kilgore Mayor Ronnie Spradlin, Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd, Brig. Gen. Samuel Henry and Robinson, the company’s commanding officer.

“On behalf of all of Kilgore, I want to tell you how proud we are to be the home of Bravo Company. ... Once the call went out that we wanted to do something to celebrate the soldiers, the support was overwhelming. We had hundreds of people that cooked and baked and served,” Spradlin said.

“You will be on the prayer list of all our churches, and we look forward to your safe return.”

Simpson reminded the men in uniform to find strength in faith.

“Our hope is that you will not only not fear any man, and that you would act courageously, do justly, but that you would also remember your creator, protector,” Simpson said.

Robinson said he shared the concerns of the men he led, but he also shared their dedication.

“The truth is none of us wants to leave. None of us wants to say goodbye to everything you love and put your lives on hold for a year,” Robinson said.

“We don’t get to say when, where or how long we will be gone, but we have all made a clear choice.”

“We said we wanted to stand for something; we said we wanted to serve. The soldiers who are standing here today have said that when our nation, state, or community need us, we are going to answer the call, and it doesn’t matter when, where, or for how long.”

In honor of the soldiers, a star on the downtown oil derrick nearest Kilgore City Hall will remain lit until the company returns.

“It’s not just the soldiers, it’s their families. Everybody makes a sacrifice ... the children and spouses and parents of these soldiers. And we are their host city, so we feel responsible to do something for them,” Spradlin said.

He added the community would continue to support the soldiers throughout the year.

“We will have some money left over to send toiletries to them. We have some of the schools and churches that want to adopt soldiers and write to them. We hope to stay in touch,” Spradlin said.

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