D COMPANY: Godspeed, soldiers of D Company

Family and friends send off D Company

BIG RAPIDS — Robin Holliday was caught in a whirlwind of emotions on Friday.

On one hand, she was happy to celebrate her 16th wedding anniversary to her husband Ron.

On the other hand, however, she was an emotional wreck. Ron, a specialist in the Michigan National Guard, and the soldiers of D Company of the 125th Infantry Battalion departed from Big Rapids for a year-long deployment to Afghanistan.

Standing in a light mist under a cloudy sky, Robin looked through teary eyes as she caught one last glimpse of her husband climbing onto a bus headed for Lansing. Ron turned to Robin and their three daughters and said, “I love you girls.”

It will likely be the last time Ron sees his family for one full year.

The light mist turned into a steady rain moments after the two buses carrying 65 soldiers left the parking lot of the Big Rapids Armory. The buses were led through town by a police and fire escort.

The soldiers of D Company departed from Big Rapids on Friday headed for Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg, Miss., for about two weeks. The company will then to Fort Irwin in San Bernardino County, Calif., for more training before deploying to the Konduz Province in Afghanistan.

The afternoon began with the soldiers and their families eating and laughing together in the Big Rapids Armory gymnasium. They shared stories and told jokes to avoid facing the reality ahead of them.

Although their spirits were high early on, emotions grew worrisome and somber as time passed. Families began to separate to different areas of the gymnasium to have some privacy and say good-byes.

Some soldiers held long embraces with their loved ones, while others played with their young children.

A small group of soldiers, who didn’t have family at the armory on Friday to send them off, lounged on a pile of duffel bags watching funny Internet videos on a cell phone.

The two charter buses that were scheduled for 1:30 p.m. arrived nearly an hour past that, giving soldiers extra time to be with their families.

The smiles on the faces of mothers, fathers, wives, daughters, sons, girlfriends and friends quickly turned to frowns as the buses pulled into the armory parking lot.

Capt. Brian VanderBie did his best to remain calm until the buses arrived. But his steadiness turned to anxiety.

“When we actually have to say goodbye is when it becomes real,” VanderBie said before the buses arrived. “Right now we’re still spending time with our families. … Some of us who has been deployed before know somewhat to expect. We’re a little calmer, but there’s still a little bit of that uneasiness. We’re still going to miss our families.”

Josh LaMay was at the armory to say goodbye to his father, 1st Sgt. Adam LaMay, who is leaving for his fifth deployment in the past 20 years.

When Josh was younger, he didn’t fully understand the gravity of his father’s deployments overseas. Josh, 20, leaves for basic training in the U.S. Air Force in December.

“When I was younger, I didn’t really have a concept of time,” he said. “Now, I realize a year is going to be a long time. I’m going to miss him.”

Although many tried to hold back tears, few dry eyes could be found as the soldiers said their final good-byes to loved ones.

One soldier was overheard saying, “This is the worst. … This is the worst.”

Visit the photo gallery to see more photos from D Company’s departure.

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Posted by Jonathan Eppley

Jonathan Eppley is news editor for the Pioneer. He designs and copy edits the Pioneer daily, and manages staff in the evening. Eppley joined the Pioneer staff in 2010. He can be reached at (231) 592-8357 or at jeppley@pioneergroup.com.

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