Families miss soldiers of 216th Co. B

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 29, 2004

Cathy Noel and many like her will ride in the parade Monday but their hearts will be thousands of miles away.

Noel and dozens of other families have heavy hearts and mixed emotions this holiday weekend as they prepare to honor their loved ones in Ohio Army National Guard's Detachment 1, Company B of the 216th Engineer Battalion. The unit consists of 36 local soldiers who are based in Ironton.

Company B and its parent unit from Portsmouth departed for Indiana in January before leaving for Iraq in February. The engineering unit is currently stationed near Tikrit.

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For Noel, immersing herself in family has kept her going while her husband Sgt. Larry Noel is deployed overseas.

"If it was not for my family, I would be half crazy," she said. "My three daughters are a lot of support to me."

Though the separation has become a little easier, evenings are the worst, she said.

"We were usually here together watching TV. That was quiet time. I miss that the most," she said. "And the holidays are tough. Mother's Day was hard. I can't imagine what Christmas was like."

Detachment 1, Company B consists of carpenters, plumbers, electricians and heavy equipment operators who are assisting in humanitarian efforts that include building bridges, roads, buildings and other support.

This marks the first time that this detachment has been deployed into a combat zone since World War II and the first time a full battalion from Ohio has been sent since the Korean conflict.

Rhonda Brown knows exactly how Noel feels. In fact, she has an additional worry because her husband Sgt. Rick Brown was moved from Iraq to a German hospital after suffering chest pains.

"I support him but I would like to have him home. But, he is in the military and he is all military," she said. "He is torn. He would like to come home but his heart is in Iraq with the other soldiers."

Earlier this month, Sgt. Brown wrote the Lawrence County Commissioners a letter to thank them for sending the unit a county and bicentennial flag. Brown said he looks forward to bringing those flags back and delivering them himself.

"I count it an honor to serve my country as well as my county in doing my part in the global war on terror," he wrote. "I hope to see each and every one of you on my return home."