National Guard unit to deploy
WESTWEGO — Craishyne Magraff said a spirited, if bittersweet, goodbye to her family a little before 11 a.m. Friday.
It will be a year before she sees her relatives again.
The eastern New Orleans Louisiana National Guard sergeant was one of more than 180 soldiers who gathered with family at the Alario Center in Westwego for a deployment ceremony as the 2225th Multi-Role Brigade Company prepared to ship out to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The unit’s mission — its first overseas deployment — will be construction operations on the front lines.
The soldiers will spend a few days in Marrero as they prepare to undergo mobilization training at Fort Dix, N.J., before heading overseas.
To say the mood during the ceremony was joyous would be disingenuous.
Soldiers and civilians clutched hands as they sat side by side in the audience; some dabbed moist eyes with tissues.
There was, however, a sense of optimism and hope among those who attended.
Capt. Frank Spiess, who has been in the Guard since 1987, will lead the mission, his first time serving as a commander.
“They’re ready to go do their jobs,” Spiess said a few minutes before the ceremony. “I’m also ready to go. It’s a lot of responsibility, but I look forward to the challenge.”
Maj. Gen. Glenn Curtis, the adjutant general of the Louisiana Army and Air National Guard, acknowledged the inherent risks involved with sending the men and women to a war zone but reassured the soldiers and their families that the leadership team in place will ensure their safe return.
As for the soldiers, their dedication is part of what will ensure success, he said.
“When your country calls, you never ask why. You just go,” Curtis said. “We don’t always pick the wars we fight. We just answer the call.”
“I have nothing but honor and pride when I speak of the soldiers who sit here today,” Spiess said. “We will test our mettle on the field of combat and take our place with all those who have gone before us.”
As the ceremony ended, the mood grew a bit more somber as the reality of the separations set in.
Many soldiers and their family members, young and old, walked out in silence and gripped each other in long embraces in the parking lot.
Magraff and four generations of her family milled about inside as they prepared to part. But their attitude was a little more upbeat. They were sad to see the 28-year-old Abramson alum leave, but they were happy that she was doing what she wanted to do.
Magraff said she comes from a military family, with her dad having served a dozen years in the Marine Corps. She joined the National Guard four years ago and was prepared for this day.
“It’s kind of like, ‘OK, it’s my turn to step up and serve my country,’ ” she said. “It’s in my bloodline.”
Her grandmother, Carolyn Wilson Bradley, said she was confident Magraff would return home safe.
“I’m going to feel lost. I’ve never been through this before,” Magraff said, adding that it’ll be her first time leaving the country. “But I’m also happy because my family is happy.”
Still, Magraff said, she’ll miss seeing her 12-year-old son, Calvin.
The boy wore a lavender button-down shirt, white sweater and blue jeans. He said he’ll wear the same thing when his mom returns home.
William Harris, Magraff’s boyfriend of eight months, held her close as she tried to keep things in perspective.
“It’s just a year. It’s going to fly by,” she said with a warm smile.
Magraff said she anticipates her return to the states, when her family will gather again in full for the first time since Friday.
“I didn’t want a going-away party,” she said. “I didn’t want to say goodbye. I want to say ‘I’m back. Let’s party.’ ”