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Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016

Guard honored at ceremony

Monday, January 5, 2004

A member of Charlie Company hugs a loved one at the Sikeston Field House Saturday.
SIKESTON -- As nearly 2,000 members of the Sikeston community piled into the Sikeston Field House Saturday for the 4 p.m. departure ceremony for Charlie Company of the 1140th Engineer Battalion, it was clear the crowd shared the same sentiment as the unit's logo on their official T-shirt: "Charlie Company rocks!"

"I've shed a lot of tears today, and I'm not ashamed of one of them," noted Vietnam veteran Tom Austin of Sikeston.

"They're putting their personal lives totally on hold -- their jobs, their families, and they're saying: 'I gotta go do this job.' And it may take them a year or 18 months. I'm not sure how long they'll be gone, but they're gonna go do their job."

Scott Matthews, also a Vietnam veteran, said he was on hand Saturday to wish some friends well and show his support.

"I feel very strongly that the community needs to send them off," Matthews said. "When we went off back in the Vietnam days, they didn't have this. It was almost as if the country was ashamed of what it was doing. And this, today, is a tremendous pride that our community has."

Separate ceremonies were held in Cape Girardeau Saturday and in Farmington and Perryville Sunday.

Throughout the hour-long ceremony, Charlie Company listened to politicians and other guests such as Brigadier General George D. Shull, adjutant general of Missouri.

Family of Charlie Company's 90 guard members weren't forgotten either as Shull's wife, Kay Shull, spoke to the families about being prep

ared and getting involved in their family readiness groups.

Most spouses, children, parents, etc., were experiencing mixed emotions Saturday.

"I can't imagine my husband being gone for 18 months," said Sharon Motes of Oran. "We've known for a month he was leaving, but even a month really isn't enough time to prepare for something like this."

Motes said she's just glad her children are older -- 16 and 17.

"I can't imagine what it would be like to have small children. I'm lucky. I have a lot of family and friends to help me, too. It'll be hard, but we'll be OK," Motes said, adding that she plans to attend family readiness group meetings and the family training on Jan. 17 in Sikeston.

"We're proud of him," Motes said. "He needs to do what he has to do."

A special touch to the ceremony was the video presentation of photos of Charlie Company members shown on a large screen as Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" and Toby Keith's "American Soldier" played in the background.

But perhaps one of the most heartfelt moments came from the closing statement by Major Edward Gargas BN S3 of the 1140th's headquarters.

"I wasn't going to say anything, but I suddenly had an emotional overflow at the moment," Gargas told the crowd after the video presentation. "... Tomorrow (Sunday) morning 16 of us leave before the other 500, and when I have to tell my little boy bye, I think I'll do that with a very heavy heart.

"As I look out in the crowd and see my family, I know they'll be OK ... I know my family has people back home that's also gonna be taken care of and we cannot say thank you enough," Gargas said.

Charlie Company commander, Capt. Scot Ratcliff, admitted he was pleased by the turnout Saturday, but not at all surprised.

"The community support here is unbelievable," Ratcliff said. "It's the key to our success."

Sixteen advance team members departed from the Cape Girardeau armory Sunday. The rest of the 500-plus member battalion will leave from their respected armories in Sikeston, Cape Girardeau, Perryville and Farmington early Tuesday. From there, they will head to Fort Riley, Kan., for additional training.

"They're the best trained, best equipped, best led and best motivated that we've ever had," Austin noted about the unit. "These guys and gals are good. I know they're gonna do good -- wherever they go, whatever they do. They're gonna go do that job. I just hope they all come home."

To keep up to date with Charlie Company, visit the unit's web site at charlie1140th.com.