|FIRST REPORTED 12:10pm 5/22/10, UPDATED 6:30am 5/23/10 There really was only one thing for you to do if you were inside the iWireless Center Saturday morning -- and no, there wasn't a hockey game or an arena football game going on at the time, either.
Applause filled the center for at least 10 minutes as every member of the 2nd Battalion, 123rd Field Artillery filed in, led by the Patriot Guard Riders, for a deployment ceremony prior to their departure Sunday morning for training ahead of a year-long trip to Egypt. Soldiers from Guard units in Galesburg, Milan, and Macomb make up the battalion.
Many at Saturday's ceremony wore t-shirts or held signs recognizing their favorite soldier, but none got a more rousing ovation than the troops' commander, Lt. Col. Maurice Rochelle.
Rochelle says he's already got a great group of troops, and he's going to make them even better.
"I'm bringing back better officers. I'm bringing back better soldiers," Rochelle said. "I'm bringing back better men. I'm bringing back better women. I'm bringing back better people -- physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually."
Rochelle, who took over the battalion in February of 2009, says he didn't know at first what the mission to Egypt would be about, but he knew that his men and women in uniform could do it.
National Guard 65th Troop Brigade Colonel Mark Jackson says many of the troops will be leaving on their first deployment, while others still will be on their second, third, and even fourth and fifth deployments.
But Jackson reminded them that they're not the only ones that deserve the title of "warrior."
"I thank you for your unwavering support of your soldiers," Jackson told the soldiers' families. "You're holding on to hope for us. You're taking care of everything; you're the husband/wife/mother/father. You're doing everything so (the troops) can concentrate on one job. It's not going to be easy on you, and we thank you for that."
Major Dan Williams will be with the 2nd Battalion, 123rd Field Artillery, and told the troops that for many it will be "the biggest adventure of your lives" -- but not just for them, the families, too.
"While you're gone, the families in this room and the people across the state continue to do things that keep things going and sane -- the t-ball games, pre-school, basketball games, wrestling, They'll be here for you," Williams said. "But when you find yourself with a moment with nothing to do, remember that just a simple phone call, a simple e-mail, or -- God forbid -- even a handwritten letter, let them experience that adventure with you."
This will be the first deployment for many of the members of the 123rd. But for at least several, it will be their fifth. But the guard thanked all of them for answering the call to serve.
Jackson and other Guard officials who spoke reminded the families -- especially the spouses -- that there will always be someone from the Guard close at hand they can rely on if they need any sort of support over the next year.
(The Patriot Guard riders assemble in the parking lot of the iWireless Center Saturday morning.)
(Members of the 2nd Battalion, 123rd Field Artillery line up near an entrance to the iWireless Center.)
(A family in the crowd in the iWireless Center cheers as Guard members enter.)
(Milan VFW members enter the deployment ceremony.)
(The children of National Guard soldiers were invited to help lead the Pledge of Allegiance.)
(Lt. Col. Maurice Rochelle receives a standing ovation from other members of the National Guard who spoke Saturday.)
(The Ecumenical Singers performed at the deployment ceremony. WGIL News Story by Will Stevenson, photos by Will Stevenson & Heather Voudrie.)
For more photos and a report that aired live Saturday on WGIL, CLICK HERE.