OSWEGO, NY – Oswego’s 444th Engineer Company of the U.S. Army Reserves received an emotional sendoff Tuesday as they prepare for a year’s deployment in Afghanistan.
Several hundred family members, friends and supporters packed the bleachers in Max Ziel Gym at Laker Hall on the SUNY Oswego campus.
Speakers included military officials as well as representatives from SUNY Oswego, Assemblyman Will Barclay’s and Senator Patty Ritchie’s offices and Oswego Mayor Tom Gillen.
Sgt. 1st Class Charles Haws served as master of ceremonies.
Thank A Service Member, an Oswego-based non-profit organization, helped coordinate the event.
Pete Allen, executive director, founded the group to bolster support for servicemen and their families.
“The Thank A Service Member organization was founded right here in Oswego in 2006. Since then, they have been able to pay tribute to tens of thousands of soldiers and have helped returning veterans through programs such a veterans home builds and education and employment opportunities,” Sgt. Haws said. “The Oswego community should be proud to have such a great organization based in its own town and in fact, Peter and his team were very instrumental in assisting in preparing and organizing this event.”
“We were expecting close to 400 people. It looks like we might have exceeded that,” Allen told Oswego County Today prior to the ceremony. “Our soldiers deserve our support. This is one way we can show our support and honor them for their service.”
The soldiers were urged to learn the culture and meet the citizens; “know that not everyone is against you, but be vigilant nonetheless,” said Major JP Palmondon, Executive Officer of the 479th Engineering Battalion (representing Lt. Col. Jason Wallace who is the 479th Battalion Commander).
He also asked their families to be strong for them until they return home.
Allen thanked everyone who worked behind the scenes to make the ceremony a success.
“Without your love and support, they won’t succeed,” he told the servicemen’s families. “Be there for them. Let us know if there’s anything that you need. There’re a dozen veteran service organizations in Oswego and around the county.”
He presented the company with a poster signed with well wishes from community members and a commemorative Challenge Coin for each member of the company.
Their wives and other loved ones received a yellow carnation – a symbol of their devotion to a family member serving overseas.
“To the soldiers of the 444th, it is our hope that when you look at this coin, you are reminded of our sincere appreciation for your service and sacrifice,” Allen said. “We are overwhelmingly proud of you and we wish each and every one of you a safe and successful mission.”
The mission of the members of the 444th unit will be convoy security.
That includes building roads and detecting and removing Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
Oleta Pospesel’s son is one of the soldiers being deployed. She sat in the audience Tuesday holding her granddaughter, Donna who was holding one of the yellow carnations.
She admitted she was a little worried about having her son in harm’s way so far from home.
“I know he’ll do what he’s been trained to do,” she said. “He has been deployed before. But this time (Afghanistan), it’s different.”
There were representatives present from various veteran service groups from Oswego, Minetto and elsewhere.
“There was a lot of representation, from veterans groups from all over the area as well as Oswego County (director of veterans’ services Donna Kestner),” Allen noted. “They recognized that today was all about the troops, and they came to show their support. Remember, this was a Tuesday morning and we had more than 400 people in attendance. The crowd was just phenomenal”
Among those present was Command Sgt. Major (ret.) John Rucynski of the US Army Reserves.
The ceremony was sponsored by National Grid, Oswego County Federal Credit Union, Step One Creative, Oswego State and Syracuse University.