Guard unit heading out

CANFIELD – A large crowd of family, friends and well-wishers turned out Thursday afternoon to honor a National Guard company preparing for deployment to Afghanistan.

The Ohio Army National Guard’s 838th Military Police Company, located in Youngstown, will join Operation Enduring Freedom later this year.

The company is made up of 130 soldiers from various communities around northeast Ohio. The deployment will last one year, according to Maj. Gen. Deborah Ashanhurst, who spoke at the Old North Church Worship Center about their departure and the celebration to welcome them back home.

“It’s certainly fitting that we have a ceremony like this for these great warriors, as they are called to duty,” Ashanhurst said.

“There is a common thread that connects all of these great soldiers sitting before you today. It is the belief in that old adage that freedom isn’t free. That thing people so take for granted is worth fighting for,” she said.

One person in attendance who didn’t need to be reminded to not take the soldiers for granted was Shelley Murray. The Youngstown woman serves as one of the company’s readiness group leaders, a volunteer position to support families struggling with the latest deployment.

“We hold monthly meetings and offer support to the families if there’s a crisis or a problem,” Murray said. “It’s just getting together with people who know what you’re going through. That’s what we do once a month.”

Murray’s husband, Shawn Murray, is a first sergeant with the company. She explained that for people not directly touched by the war, it is easy to forget the struggle of military families.

“We’re at work and the kids go to school, but a lot of people there don’t know what you’re going through,” Murray said. “We don’t live on a military base, so we don’t have that community. We have our family and we have the other families that are going the same thing.

“The biggest thing we get now is, ‘I thought they were coming home.’ A lot of them are not,” she said.

Margaret Aman of Akron was there to support her son-in-law, who will be leaving behind a pregnant wife.

“They have a 1-year-old son and a baby on the way,” Aman said. “He won’t be here when the baby comes, so this is a very emotional day for us. Still, it feels like one huge family here today.”

Likewise, Cindy Cayton struggled with watching her son deploy for the second time.

“It was emotional and they make us proud,” Cayton of Carrollton said. “I don’t really want to see him go, but he believes he has to do it. I think it is important that people understand what these guys are giving up and what they’re doing.”

U.S. Rep. Timothy J. Ryan, D-Niles, spoke to the crowd about the great sacrifices made by those being deployed.

“We’re here today to honor the men and women who stood up and said, ‘Send me, there’s work to be done,”’ Ryan said. “We honor here today, for those of you who are making their first, second, third, fourth tours. So, some of you have stood up two, three, four times to say send me.

“But, we’re also here today to recognize how that leadership ripples out through our communities, our families, our country and our world, because you are leaders.”

Other speakers at the event included George Brown representing Sen. Rob Portman, Capt. Jason Dancy and Capt. Larry Leap, who served as master of ceremonies.

The company will train at Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center in Mississippi before deploying to Afghanistan.