876th Engineering Company Holds Departure Ceremony

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The 876th Engineering Company on stage

The last Georgia National Guard unit scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan gets a  send-off in Stephens County.

The departure ceremony for the 876th Engineering Company took place Thursday at the Georgia Baptist Conference Center in Toccoa.

The unit, based out of the Toccoa National Guard Armory, is headed to Afghanistan for a nine-month overseas deployment.

Company Commander Captain Tyler Cook said the unit is ready to go.

He noted for some it is their fifth or sixth tour of duty.

“For some, they have only been home mere months yet they wish to go back,” said Capt. Cook. “They go back because they see this war as an opportunity, an opportunity to serve their country and people, an opportunity to make their families’ lives richer. They wish to continue to fight to ensure that America’s freedoms remain secure for generations to come and to ensure their freedoms are guaranteed.”

Numerous state and local officials were on hand for the ceremony, including Georgia Adjutant General Jim Butterworth.

Gen. Butterworth said he knows the unit will represent itself and the nation with honor and integrity.

“You have two things on your uniform you have to live up to each and every day,” said Gen. Butterworth. “On one side, it says ‘U.S. Army,’ the mightiest, strongest military organization on the face of the Earth. Do not forget that. On the other side of that uniform is your last name. Make sure you bring honor, and I know that you will, each and every minute of each and every day to those two things that you wear on your uniform.”

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Guardsmen march into the departure ceremony

Gen. Butterworth also noted that the unit represents the continuation of Toccoa’s rich military history.

Toccoa Mayor Gail Fry spoke on behalf of the city.

She thanked the soldiers for their service and sacrifice.

She also said the families are to be honored for their sacrifice.

“I know that there are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children, spouses, aunts, uncles, (and) friends that will be left with an empty spot in their heart for the next year, but you are doing your part by supporting your soldiers,” said Fry.

The unit thanked the community for the overwhelming support it received while it trained in Toccoa.

About 150 soldiers are headed overseas with the unit and while some have been many times, others are going for their first time.

One of those is Specialist Shawn Israel.

He said a lot of things cross his mind as he prepares to make this journey.

“Leaving home for the first time for this long a period of time, is my family going to be okay and everything like that,” said Israel.

Israel also said that he heads over there open to anything.

“I hope to just go over there and help as much as we can and take in the sights,” said Spec. Israel. “I am not exactly sure what I am going to see yet.”

His wife, Amanda Israel, said that it is hard on all families and theirs is no different.

“It is emotional, but I know he will be okay,” she said. “We have two little ones, so it will be tough but what is nine months, a year, when compared to a lifetime? It will be fine.”

The unit will head to Fort Bliss first, then to Afghanistan, where they should arrive in July.

While the unit is there, it will conduct repair and construction operations including plumbing, electrical work, carpentry, and concrete work for facilities in their assigned area of operations.