Loved ones, troops deal with deployment

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 9, 2004

NATCHEZ &045;&045; Parents beamed proud smiles and wives dabbed at tears as soldiers rocked their babies tight and hugged loved ones &045;&045; one of their last chances to do so before the 155th Infantry leaves home Wednesday.

That was the scene at a reception the Family Readiness Group of the Army National Guard’s 155th Infantry held Saturday evening at the Natchez Community Center for the soldiers and their loved ones.

&uot;This lets them know people care about them, that the community cares about them,&uot; Sharon Goodrich, organizer of the group, said of the event as she helped set out a buffet-style dinner for more than 80 attendees.

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But most of the troops present Saturday only had to look to their left and right to see how much their loved ones, the ones they’ll miss the most, care about them.

&uot;I don’t want him to go,&uot; Candice Shelby said, blinking back tears and inching closer to her boyfriend, Jason Watts, who lives on the Coast.

Nearby, a family friend held their son, 10-month-old Justin.

Across the dinner table, Ricky Chrestman of Knoxville, Tenn. &045;&045; who is based with a 155th unit in Batesville &045;&045; was doing his best to keep the mood upbeat.

What will his wife, Melissa, worry the most about when her husband’s gone? &uot;The bills &045;&045; go ahead and say it, the bills,&uot; Ricky Chrestman joked, getting a laugh from his wife.

&uot;I just want him to take care of himself while he’s other there,&uot; she said as her husband bounced son Zachary, 15 months, on his knee.

&uot;I will,&uot; Ricky Chrestman promised. &uot;You know I become a whole different person when I put on that uniform.&uot;

At the next table, Glenn Carter of Woodville admitted his reservations about deployment.

&uot;We’ve been training a lot, … but I’m still not really sure what to expect,&uot; he said, looking over at his girlfriend, Krystina Smith.

But his mother, Linda Wilson, had some ready advice about how to deal with the uncertainty.

&uot;All we can do is pray and leave him in the hands of God,&uot; she said.

That, and spend as much time as possible with the soldiers before they leave, said George Rutherford of Vidalia. Rutherford was there with his stepson, Adam Kirk of Natchez.

&uot;You just spend as much quality time with them as you can,&uot; Rutherford said.

&uot;Being with family and praying&uot; is how Rick Prescott of Natchez and his wife of just one month, Alison, have dealt with his impending deployment.

But Rick Prescott said having military benefits, such as a housing allowance and insurance, for his new wife has given him one less thing to worry about while he’s away.

Taking care of household logistics such as finances and shopping and packing for deployment have been one way Nicholas and Lacy Blanton of Natchez, married for just two months, have dealt with his deployment.

Since they found out he would be deployed &045;&045; news they received right after returning from their honeymoon &045;&045; they’ve also talked extensively about the facts they do know about his upcoming service.

&uot;For us, it’s really been more mental preparation than anything,&uot; Nicholas Blanton said.

Still, despite all the preparation, some things don’t change.

&uot;I can’t wait,&uot; Lacy Blanton said, &uot;until he gets home.&uot;

Wednesday morning, more than 50 members from the Miss-Lou will leave Natchez’s armory to join about 4,000 others at Camp Shelby near Hattiesburg.

They will train there for 90 days and at bases in either Louisiana or Texas for three week before deploying, probably in early 2005. They will stay in the Middle East for up to 18 months.

In addition to hosting Saturday’s reception, support group members also hold support meetings at 5:30 p.m. each Wednesday at the armory, and they are taking an active role in organizing a community send-off for the 155th Wednesday.

All Miss-Lou residents are asked to line Liberty Road, Seargent S. Prentiss Drive, U.S. 61 and U.S. 84, with flags and signs in hand, between 8 and 9 a.m. Wednesday to give the troops a rousing send-off.

The Family Readiness Group is also planning to provide more specific assistance to the troops and their families as the needs arise.