By Joyce Moran
It was a dark, rainy night. Driving through town you got the feeling you were driving through Bedford Falls, from the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Coming to the high school, you found the parking lot completely full—as were both sides of 9th Street. Most of the cars sported the magnetic ribbons that state, “We Support Our Troops.”
Walking into the lower level of the school your eyes first saw the sign, “We’re holding you in our hearts.” Then, entering the gym, you saw it was packed—more people crowding into it than one can ever remember. As Adjutant Major General Larry Shellito later said in his address, “Little Falls, this is your shining hour.”
The gathering was the departure ceremony for the 153 soldiers in the Minnesota Army National Guard’s Company A, 434th Main Support Battalion. Having been activated from Weekend Warriors to full-time soldiers, the men and women of Company A are scheduled to leave after Thanksgiving for Fort Benning, GA. After training there, it is expected they will go to Iraq where they will provide logistics support to combat forces.
The ceremony began with the soldiers, solemnly, marching into the gym. As they did, the 34th Infantry Division Band played patriotic music. “Hi Daddy,” was the only break heard over the drums and trumpets. Then, more patriotic music. This time it was from Lindbergh Elementary’s fifth graders, led by Becky Dawson. And, as they sang songs like “I’m Proud to be an American, and “This Land is My Land,” slides were shown of the soldiers with their families. Many in attendance had to wipe their eyes.
Following the presentation of colors, Specialist Jennifer Shumaker Meyer sang the Star Spangled Banner. There was then the words from the attending officials. State Senator Paul Koering asked the families of the soldiers to “take solace in knowing your family member is performing this selfless act to protect and maintain freedom.”
Mary Pawlenty, wife of the Governor, was the next to speak. She thanked the soldiers for being role models for her children. She also encouraged the family members left behind to use her web site to find help if and when they ever needed it. It is .
Major General Shellito spoke next. He told the soldiers that they had an obligation to each other. “You will get to know each other maybe better than your siblings,” he said. “You will sense their feelings. Look out for them. Ask how they’re doing.” He also encouraged them to keep memorable moments with them, “like this one tonight with the community standing and cheering for you.”
Governor Tim Pawlenty was the last to speak. “Radical Islam is as great a threat to the U.S. as Communism and Fascism were,” he said. “You are on the doorstep of a history-making moment, and you are adding to our national security. We are proud of you. You are our heroes. We stand with you.”
The Governor then presented the unit’s commanding officer, Captain Jack Joubert, with a flag of the State of Minnesota, with instructions to bring it along with him to remind the unit members where they came from. He concluded by saying, “And then bring it back to me, with all of you in one piece!”
The ceremony ended with Chaplain Jeff Heidrscheit having everyone pray, with hands extended over the soldiers, “May the Lord bless and keep you; may God watch over you.”
There have been times when issues have divided the residents of Little Falls—a smoking ban, the French flag, a Wal-Mart Supercenter. There was nothing, however, dividing them the rainy night of Nov. 19. They stood together, waving their flags and giving hugs, as they showed their support to the young men and women who will be leaving soon for a faraway land where danger is a constant companion.