3,400 soldiers deploy to Iraq in ceremony near Kansas State U.


By Sheila Ellis

MANHATTAN, Kan. – She embraced him with tears rolling down her cheeks. “This is my only son,” Lisa Alexander said.

Alexander and her husband drove from Drummonds, Tenn., to bid her son, Timothy Jones, farewell.

Jones, a 19-year-old private first class, said he enlisted in the army last year to give back to the people who had a hand in raising him.

“He says ‘I’m not only in the army to protect my country, I am protecting my mama, too,’” Alexander said.

Members of the surrounding community gathered to honor the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, a 3,400-soldier unit, in a deployment ceremony Thursday afternoon in King Field House at Fort Riley.

The date of the soldiers’ departure has not been released.

“There will be no deployment date released due to the safety of the soldiers,” said Deb Skidmore, public affairs officer for Fort Riley.

Among the crowd were mayors Bruce Snead of Manhattan and Terry Heldstab of Junction City.

Brigade commander Col. Ricky Gibbs said the soldiers gave back to the community in many ways.

One example was when they put Willie the Wildcat through basic training to prepare him for the Wildcat football season.

Gibbs said although they had short notice, the soldiers are ready to head to Iraq. The soldiers were dedicated and hardworking throughout the entire training process, he said.

“We have been preparing ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually,” Gibbs said.

A year ago this same brigade had one-sixth of the soldiers it has now and 5 percent of its equipment, Gibbs said.

Now it is fully trained and equipped to serve with the other 132,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, President Bush said in his State of the Union address.

This deployment is part of President Bush’s plan to boost the number of U.S. troops by 21,500 in the coming months to stabilize Iraq.

The Brigade trained last fall in Fort Irwin, Calif., for deployment, and learned in November they will depart this year.

The Brigade is heading to Iraq under the motto, “No mission too difficult and no sacrifice too great,” Gibbs said. Gibbs said a soldier’s job is not easy, and neither is their family’s role in the process.

Pfc. Joshua Fulton, 18, said the hardest thing for him is being far away from his family in Los Angeles. When he was in training at Ft. Irwin, he could not visit his family even though he was 45 minutes away. This will be Fulton’s first tour in Iraq.

Brigade Csm. Jim Champagne said his 11-year old son is supportive of his job.

Champagne said his son sat in front of the television during the president’s speech and wrote an essay to better understand the president’s message.

“It just warms my heart to hear my son say how proud he is of me,” Champagne said. “He is very confident in the soldiers, and they are ready to head out.”

Champagne already has been to Iraq and says he trusts the Iraq security.

He said one of the main obstacles will be the Iraqi soldiers and their level of trust in the new soldiers.

“Once they understand we are there to help it should go smoother,” he said.

This might be a culture shock to soldiers who are traveling to Iraq for the first time, Champagne said.

However, they received extensive cultural training, including basic language classes, and they are ready, he said.

Champagne said if he could say one thing to President Bush it would be, “We are ready to stay the course.”

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