Monday, June 11, 2007

Amid Fanfare and Emotion, Ottumwa Guard Company Heads Back to Iraq

Ottumwa was a community swelling with pride at a send-off ceremony Sunday for approximately 120 soldiers in the Iowa National Guard 833rd Engineer Company.
The Hellyer Student Life Center gymnasium at Indian Hills Community College was filled with soldiers and their families and friends, along with others from the community just there to show their support.

A sidewalk was lined with flags from the gymnasium all the way to the buses that would take the soldiers to Fort McCoy, Wis., where they will prepare to be deployed for service in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Most of the people in attendance, both soldiers and civilians, have been through this emotional experience before.

This group of soldiers, formerly called Company B of the 224th Engineering Battalion, served a tour of duty in Iraq from October 2004 through December, 2005. Company B, from Ottumwa and the rural areas and nearby towns of southeast Iowa, became well-known for being very good at what they do.

Iowa National Guard Public Affairs Officer Lt. Col. Greg Hapgood said the 833rd Engineer Company's responsibility involves "providing greater mobility for U.S. forces and also countering some of the things that opposing forces do to slow down or to stop our soldiers." Hapgood said that the soldiers of the 833rd Company "are very experienced with building things, with tearing down things, with using explosives, and with direct combat support for units in a combat situation. So they really have a great variety of skills that they can do very ably, and they're ready to go do their mission."

One of the things they do best is find and diffuse improvised explosive devices. As noted by Des Moines Register columnist John Carlson, this company of soldiers has proven its abilities and been honored for it by high-level commanders.

Among those soldiers today was Staff Sgt. Tim Raskie, a communications specialist for the unit. His duties during the 2004-2005 tour in Iraq involved taking care of all of the radios and other communication systems used by the 833rd Engineer Company, a task he will continue when they arrive in Iraq for their second tour of duty.

Raskie is a resident of Albia, where he is raising two kids with his wife, Ruth. His son Brian and his daughter Leah are students at Albia Community Schools, and Ruth is a librarian at the Carnegie-Evans Public Library in Albia. In an emotional moment after the ceremony, the kids hugged their father as the other soldiers began making their way toward the buses waiting outside.

Another soldier in the company is Sgt. Nathan Chambers. He deployed today for his third tour of duty in the War on Terrorism.

His father, Brian Chambers of Eddyville, said Sgt. Chambers first served a tour of duty in Afghanistan with another National Guard unit.
After returning from Afghanistan, he later joined this Ottumwa unit and served in the previous deployment in 2004-2005.

Sgt. Chambers was just recently married in March, and living in Pella with his new bride, Dawn.

The send-off ceremony included a speech by Ottumwa Mayor Dale Uehling, who presented the company with an Iowa flag the soldiers will take with them to Iraq.

Rep. Dave Loebsack, who is a member of the U.S. House Armed Services committee, thanked the soldiers for their service and offered his gratitude to the soldiers' families.

As the company exited the gymnasium to board the buses, the local American Legion post conducted a 21-gun salute.

The buses carrying the soldiers were escorted out of town by the sirens and flashing lights of Ottumwa fire trucks, ambulances and police vehicles.

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