Soldiers of the 3175th Chemical Company, along with more than 500 family and friends, jam the Armed Forces Reserve Center at Jefferson Barracks Friday for the unit's departure ceremony. (Bill Phelan photo)
By Bill Phelan
ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MO. - Soldiers of the Missouri Army National Guard's 3175th Chemical Company, based at historic Jefferson Barracks in south St. Louis County, will soon begin a year-long deployment to the Middle East after a departure ceremony at the base Friday.
More than 500 family members and friends joined federal, state and local dignitaries at the Joint Armed Forces Reserve Center as the unit prepares for its first-ever overseas deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The ceremony featured a show of support by members of the local USO and a color guard from the St. Louis County Police Department, while the Mehlville High School Choir performed the National Anthem.
Normally a decontamination unit, the 3175th will join about 300 other Missouri Guardsmen, mostly military police, on a base security mission in Qatar, which serves as a central staging area for all U.S. military activity in the region.
"I know that some of you have been deployed before so take care of each other and lean on those who have been there," said Brig. Gen. David F. Irwin, of St. Louis, deputy commander of the 35th Infantry Division, who was speaking on behalf of Maj. Gen. Stephen Danner, adjutant general of the Missouri National Guard. "Know that the Missouri National Guard chain of command is here for your families if they need anything while you're gone so that you can focus on your mission and return home safely."
For Dale and Tammy Davenport, of Chillicothe, the parents of Sgt. Zach Davenport, deployment ceremonies are nothing new.
"This will be (Zach's) second deployment and we have two other sons, Nate and Tanner, in the Marine Corps, so this is our family's fifth deployment" said Dale "I'm proud of Zach and I stand behind him, but we're a little scared."
"I'm scared and worried," echoed Tammy Davenport, "but I feel the training they received and the leadership they have has put them in good shape."
"I'm confident my son is trained well and will do what is necessary to succeed," added Angie Wells, of south St. Louis, the mother of the Pvt. Justin Wells. "We've always encouraged Justin's military career. This was his choice and we support him."
Prior to Friday's ceremony, about 130 deploying soldiers of the 3175th underwent several weeks of pre-deployment training at Camp Crowder, Missouri.
"I was very happy with the training because they were able to tailor it to our mission," said 1st Lt. Gregory W. Stueve, of Waynesville, the company commander. "Instead of having us train on every possible scenario in Iraq and Afghanistan they were able to tone it down and be more specific to base security. And we do have some military police within our company so they were our subject matter experts."
While deployed, Stueve will miss his fifth wedding anniversary but said his wife, Michelle, fully understands.
"Michelle was in the National Guard prior to the birth of our first child so she knows the drill," he said.
Before departing for Qatar, soldiers of the 3175th will undergo several weeks of additional "warrior task" training at Camp Shelby, Miss.
The 3175th Chemical Company was formed in 2004 as the Missouri National Guard's only chemical decontamination unit. The company now provides chemical and biological surveillance as well as chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear mass casualty decontamination. The 3175th is part of the 835th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, headquartered in Jefferson City.
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