Hero's Sendoff for Departing Guardsmen

Most of the men who signed up for service with Springfield's National Guard unit never thought they'd be fighting on the front lines of war. Now, that's exactly where they are headed. But not before their families and friends honored them with hero's parade.

One hundred twenty-five weekend warriors from the 118th Field Artillery's Alpha Battery of the 48th Brigade said goodbye to friends and family. They've been called into action--for the first time in a long time--to fight the war in Iraq.

It was an emotional, yet proud day for these members of the National Guard. Instead of serving their country a few weeks and weekends a year--these soldiers will now be serving full time.

"It's definitely a life-changing experience, we all know that," said Spec. Frankie Smith.

Their first stop is training at Fort Stewart, then more training in California. By this summer, they'll be in Iraq. In all, they could be away from home for a year and a half.

"Normally it's two weeks out of the year, I think after that two weeks, it will set in on them," said Sgt. Alton McQuaig.

Today they had to say goodbye. "I'm very proud of my husband, he's a great and wonderful man and father," said Joli McQuaig.

The last time this unit deployed was during World War II, about 60 years ago. The soldiers say it doesn't come as a complete surprise; they've seen in coming for a couple years now. But knowing doesn't make this day any easier.

"I hope he goes and does his job and hurries back home," said Joli.

After the private goodbyes--it was time for town to wish them well. The deploying convoy turned into a parade. The soldiers stopped for a minute at Springfield Elementary School, where school children waved flags and gave them homemade cookies.

People all over the towns of Springfield and Rincon turned out to show their support.

"It brings tears to your eyes, it really does, especially when you see all the moms and wives, it's heartbreaking," resident Dana King told us.

Some of the men who deployed today have seen combat before, but many of them are just regular guys--college students, teachers, factory workers. They will only get to see the families a few days over the next few months, before the big deployment to Iraq.

Reported by: Michelle Paynter, mpaynter@wtoc.com