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"Go show 'em what you're made of," commander tells W.Va. Guard members bound for Iraq

July 25, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- West Virginia's National Guard commander on Thursday told members of the 167th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia Air National Guard about to be deployed to Iraq in the coming weeks to "go show 'em what you're made of."

"Take care of yourself. Get home safe and sound," Major Gen. Allen E. Tackett said to 28 members of the Airlift Wing's security forces squadron based at Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport south of Martinsburg.

Scheduled to depart Saturday at 3 a.m. for training at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, the contingent will be deployed in two groups to Sather Air Base in Iraq near Baghdad, one acting as an advance team, 1st Lt. Mike Lemon said.

Lemon said he and 14 other Guard members will return home before deploying for their assignment two weeks later.

The group is expected to return in March 2008.

Lemon said his goal is to return by St. Patrick's Day.

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The deployment represents about 30 percent of the 167th's security forces squadron, which essentially fulfills military police duties for the Air Force, Lemon said.

Lemon is one of at least three civilian police officers in the contingent who have ties to the Tri-State area.

From 1999 to 2005, Lemon said he was assigned to the Martinsburg detachment of the West Virginia State Police. He now works out of the Moundsville detachment with three other troopers.

"It shifts a lot of the work burden on my colleagues," Lemon said.

Chambersburg (Pa.) Police Department Patrolman Richard Sleichter will be leaving his wife, Angela, and their 2-year-old son behind.

"I'm proud to serve my country," Sleichter said. "I'm ready to go."

"I appreciate the support from the Chambersburg Police Department. They're 100 percent behind me," said Sleichter, a five-year member of the department.

Martinsburg Police Department Cpl. Justin Darby said he was "excited to go and have the opportunity to serve."

Sgt. Les Witt, one of Darby's supervisors, said Thursday that the department was proud he was serving his country.

"Obviously, we wish him well," Witt said.

So does a recently formed support group - Operation Mountaineer Pride - that Tackett took a few minutes to recognize on Thursday.

"On behalf of the entire Guard ... I want to thank you all for the sacrifice that you are making to try to take care of these men and women as they deploy," Tackett said to members of Prudential Schultz Realty, which are sponsoring the effort with the American Legion in Charles Town, W.Va.

The group has sent 900 letters to enlist support from businesses, and since then have provided day packs, flashlights, sunscreen, batteries and other items to Guard members, said Mountaineer Pride coordinator Terri Reed, whose husband is a Guard member.

Gary Statler of the Airlift Wing's Family Readiness Group presented two flags that will be flown at the base in Iraq and another that is to be specially flown at the base for Valley View Elementary School students who "adopted" one the soldiers who is being deployed.

"I pray that the Lord will bring you home safely," Statler said.

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