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Ceremony honors Missouri soldiers headed to Afghanistan

Friday, September 4, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
Missouri National Guard Capt. Jordan Clark of Shawnee, Kan., left center, playfully sticks his tongue out to mimic his daughter, Abigail, 1, before the start of a deployment ceremony at the Ike Skelton National Guard Training Site in Jefferson City on Thursday. Clark and sixty other National Guard soldiers and the Agri-Business Development Team III will soon be deployed to Afghanistan to provide agricultural training and assistance to Afghan citizens.

JEFFERSON CITY — For the family and friends of departing Missouri Army and Air National Guard soldiers, goodbye sounded like the somber tune of a lone violin playing the national anthem.

At a ceremony Thursday, which honored 60 members of the Agribusiness Development Team III who will leave for a base in Indiana this weekend pending overseas deployment to Afghanistan in November, such an interplay of patriotism and reluctant parting set the tone for the morning's proceedings.

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Gov. Jay Nixon addressed the crowd gathered at the Ike Skelton Training Site.

"We look forward to welcoming you back to the Show-Me State in a few short months," Nixon said.

Indeed, the mission of the development team likely will allow for a timely return. The unit will help farmers in the Nangarahr region of Afghanistan refine agricultural practices and increase crop production, an initiative started by a team of Missouri National Guard soldiers in 2007. Brig. Gen. Stephen Danner, who spoke at the ceremony, said a fourth agribusiness development team is in the works.

U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., made an unannounced appearance at the event, where he spoke of his approval of the program.

"ADTs are a tremendous success, and I personally believe we're going to need more people," Bond said.

The senator added he hoped more states would follow Missouri's lead in aiding Afghanistan's agricultural industry.

Danner also used his speech to emphasize the importance of the development teams' role in Afghanistan.

"If we're going to defeat the enemy in Afghanistan, the way is to help people learn how to farm, learn how to feed their families and develop a strong economy," he said.

Yet as families in Afghanistan benefit from the program, relatives of deployed troops will face difficulties at home.

Ashley Clark, 26, gave birth to her daughter, Abigail, less than a year ago. Now her husband, Capt. Jordan Clark, is being deployed for the first time.

"I'm most concerned about him missing her," Clark said, casting a glance down at her daughter.

Dodie Philipian, 72, was concerned for her daughter, Rebecca Argilagos, too. Argilagos will leave her own daughter, Christiana, 12, behind as she serves as a medic in Afghanistan.

"It's a worry because you just don't know what's going to happen," Philipian said as tears gathered in her eyes. "I'm worried because I can't understand what's going on over there. It's a different culture."

The deployment comes after three Missouri servicemen were killed in Afghanistan in the month of August. A total of  20 soldiers from Missouri have been killed in Afghanistan since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom, according to the Department of Defense.

Bond said in an e-mail the deaths are losses he regrets.

"The parents of troops and the citizens of this nation mourn the loss of our brave service members overseas," he said in the e-mail. "Unfortunately, we must continue to send our troops into harm's way to protect our security here at home and that of our allies abroad."

During his invocation, military chaplain Gary Gilmore said it was "not a day for sunshine." Instead, for people such as Kenneth Wilson, whose son-in-law will be deployed with the development team, it was a day for support, and for faith.

"We wish he didn't have to go, but it's something that's got to be done," Wilson said. "You just have to pray."

 


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