Local troops headed to Afghanistan

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, August 24, 2011

VIDALIA — When you’re a career soldier and you’re being deployed, sometimes, you just have to take a second to catch your breath, and then start figuring out what you need to do.

At least, that’s what Louisiana Army National Guard Capt. Michael Stevens, 35, said he did when he recently found out he’d be deployed to Afghanistan after he leaves for training beginning Sept. 8.

Stevens, the son of Vernon and Kathleen Stevens, will be deployed as the company commander of the Vidalia National Guard Unit, Detachment 1 of the 108th Transportation Company.

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Sheriff Randy Maxwell and the Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office, along with the Concordia Chamber of Commerce will host a reception Sept. 6 to support the 60 soldiers who are being deployed, and Vernon Stevens said he was helping to put the event together even before he knew his son would be going with the unit as its commander.

The public is invited to the reception, which will start at 5:30 p.m. and will take place at the Concordia Community Center on Louisiana 15.

During the reception, Vernon Stevens said, he hopes to have a church choir sing a few patriotic songs and maybe have a few guest speakers. Refreshments will be served, and blessings will be offered for the soldiers.

Of the 60 soldiers who make up the unit, Vernon Stevens said, nearly half of them are from Vidalia and the surrounding areas, like Ferriday, Waterproof and Jonesville.

“There are even a couple from Natchez in this unit,” he said.

Vernon Stevens said the idea to host the reception first came about at a Vidalia American Legion meeting a few weeks ago when the deployment was announced. Everyone decided that it would be nice to let those in the unit know the community supports them, and Vernon Stevens, who retired from the service a number of years ago, headed up in the initiative.

After he was already taking charge, though, he said, he found out his son would be deployed, too.

“All of a sudden it got real — it got more personal than it (had been),” Vernon Stevens said.

Michael Stevens said it’s encouraging for him to know his father is involved.

“He would (put this together) whether I was going or not,” he said. “I know the fact that I’m going didn’t make him do it.

“It means a lot — it really does.”

The City of Vidalia is also asking that businesses in the community donate small items to help fill gift bags for the soldiers.

Executive Director of the Concordia Chamber of Commerce Jamie Wiley said individual citizens are welcomed to donate, too.

“Every little bit helps,” she said. “You don’t have to bring 60 of the same items. People can bring what they have, and we’ll try to distribute them (between the bags) as evenly as possible.”

The items asked for are things like playing cards, dominoes, powdered drink mixes, word finds and magazines.

“Anything that will help (the soldiers) to keep their minds off of where they are,” Wiley said.

Toiletries like deodorants, Q-tips, toothbrushes and dental floss would also be accepted, she said.

Items should be dropped off at the chamber, she said, which is located at 1401 Carter St.

Any questions about the gift bags should be directed to Wiley at 318-336-8223.

When the soldiers’ buses leave Sept. 8, Vernon Stevens said, the city is also asking that the community line the highway to wave goodbye as they leave for what will probably be a 12- to 13-month tour.

“I just hope everybody turns out to send them off and wish them well,” he said.

And for Michael Stevens, sometimes it’s nice to know he has the community to help him catch his breath.

“It’s great knowing that the community supports the National Guard as a whole and especially the hometown unit — it’s nice.

“For lack of a better word, it’s comforting to know they care.”