Strangers in the homeland

More activations have Missouri National Guardsmen playing an important role in homeland defense
Thursday, January 22, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:54 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

On Sunday, 1st Lt. Frank Lopez of the Missouri National Guard said goodbye to his wife in St. Louis and headed to Columbia after being ordered to report for active duty. At a deployment ceremony on Wednesday, the soldier in the 128th Field Artillery Battalion said he had mixed emotions.

“I feel proud and sad,” he said. “Proud to be fulfilling the duty I signed up to do, and sad to be leaving my wife.”

Lopez, 29, whose father escaped Cuba on a boat, said being called to service was a small price to pay for the freedom he has experienced in the United States.

About 100 members of the battalion said goodbye to friends and family during the deployment ceremony at the National Guard Armory north of Columbia. The soldiers will report to their mobilization station today in Fort Eustis, Va., for training in military police tactics.

The unit will receive two weeks of training and serve stateside, guarding gates to military bases and performing other duties related to homeland security for at least one year.

“It’s not glorious combat, but the families of soldiers will greatly appreciate us being there, and the soldiers overseas will feel the same,” said Spc. Jasper Williams, 21, of St. Louis.

Representatives of Gov. Bob Holden, Rep. Kenny Hulshof and Sens. Kit Bond and Jim Talent read letters of praise and admiration addressed to the soldiers as family members craned their necks to catch sight of their loved ones. Despite the soldiers’ impending yearlong deployment, the atmosphere was light-hearted.

“I’ve lived with my family for 21 years now,” Williams said. “This is only one year apart.”

In November, about 250 soldiers from the 128th battalion were activated for similar training. As major combat has ended in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. military police are in greater demand. About 2,200 National Guard members have been activated for temporary military police duty.

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