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Showing its ongoing support for the military and the community, Liberty University hosted an emotional departure ceremony Friday for more than 600 Virginia National Guard troops heading to Iraq.
With cold, windy weather gripping the region, attendees were happy to have use of the Schilling Center for the ceremony, which was originally to be held outside at the National D-Day Memorial in nearby Bedford, Va.
“I’ve been to these when it was 10 below,” said one attendee, who has a husband serving in Afghanistan and a son heading to Iraq.
The departing troops, from the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, will first undergo several weeks of training at Camp Shelby in Mississippi.
For many, like Privates Alex Adkins and Robert Stevenson, the deployment was a first.
“We’re young, single guys, so it’s not too bad for us,” said Adkins, who is originally from Charlotte, N.C., but attends Virginia Tech. “It would definitely be harder for us if we had family here.”
Isaiah Luce, a Liberty junior in the School of Communication, was surrounded by his family. Luce is a private specialist and the second in his family to be deployed; his brother is a captain in a strike unit in Afghanistan. For Staff Sgt. Bruce Deel the deployment means leaving his wife and three young daughters until early next year.
The crowd of nearly 2,000 heard from U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello (D-5th District), U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-6th District), state Del. Kathy Byron (R-Campbell) and Lynchburg Mayor Joan Foster, as well as D-Day veteran Bob Slaughter of Roanoke, Va. Slaughter, who served in Pearl Harbor, was instrumental in bringing the National D-Day Memorial to Central Virginia.
Lt. Col. Edward S. Smith honored Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. for hosting the event, as Dr. Barry Moore, vice president for outreach and strategic partnerships accepted a D-Day painting on behalf of the chancellor.
“When I asked the chancellor about hosting the event,” Moore said, “his response was unwavering and immediate: ‘Absolutely, give them anything they need.’ That’s how we do it here.”
Ernest Carter, Director of Events Management for LU, was also recognized at the ceremony for coordinating the heavily attended event on short notice.