La. troops mobilize

Guardsmen deploy on Mideast tour

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Prior to the deployment ceremony, 769th Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Thomas Turner, right, listens to his daughter, Gabrielle Turner, a freshman at Northwestern State University majoring in Communications.
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Prior to the deployment ceremony, 769th Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Thomas Turner, right, listens to his daughter, Gabrielle Turner, a freshman at Northwestern State University majoring in Communications.

A giant American flag hung over Burnside Avenue on Sunday as family and friends of more than 100 Louisiana National Guard members lined the street waving American flags as three buses filled with guardsmen rolled through the city.

Members of the 922nd Horizontal Engineer Company in Gonzales left from their Irma Boulevard armory, headed to conduct mobilization training in Fort Bliss, Texas, before deploying for a yearlong assignment in Kuwait.

“It was a very moving experience,” St. Amant Fire Chief James LeBlanc said.

LeBlanc and more than 20 friends and relatives of guardsman and St. Amant volunteer firefighter Micha Pickens held signs and waved flags as the buses drove by the corner of Burnside and Cornerview Road. LeBlanc said the St. Amant Volunteer Fire Department brought a few of its fire trucks to show support for Pickens.

Across the street, members of the Gonzales Fire Department stood next to several trucks, including one ladder truck that hoisted the large American flag.

Not far from the Gonzales truck, Alaina Gautreau got a quick glimpse of her husband, Nick Gautreau, as the bus he was in whizzed by.

Alaina said she plans to communicate with her husband through Skype during his deployment. Skype is an Internet-based service that allows users to communicate by voice, video and instant message.

Before leaving Sunday, Alaina said her son, Austin, 4, spent time with Nick “doing cowboy stuff and playing his guitar.”

“We’re all going to miss him,” Alaina said.

The 922nd and the 205th Engineer Battalion, from Bogalusa and Hammond, also took part in deployment ceremonies Jan. 31.

The yearlong deployment will culminate with the units providing command and control of engineer construction operations in Kuwait, where they will be “doing very tough work,” said Maj. Gen. Glenn Curtis, the adjutant general of the Louisiana National Guard, who addressed the crowds at both ceremonies.

Sunday’s flag-waving send-off was organized by the Ascension Veterans Associations, a combination of several veterans groups, who asked resident to line the Gonzales streets to say good-bye to the guardsmen.

Association founder Brent Gautreau handed out flags along the route Sunday.

He said there were many tearful goodbyes at the armory as the soldiers loaded onto the buses.

“This is the least we can do,” Brent Gautreau said. “I just wish more people had come out Sunday.”

The group is planning to hold a fundraiser in March to raise money to send care packages to the guardsmen. Brent Gautreau said the group plans to send the first round of packages in April.