Thursday, February 7, 2008

Friends and Family Brave Weather to Honor Soldiers at Send-Off Ceremony

Due to heavy snowfall and hazardous driving conditions, all schools in the Iowa City area shut down Wednesday. This, however, did not deter Regina Catholic School from opening its doors to host the Iowa National Guard’s 109th Medical Battalion’s send-off ceremony.

109th Medical Battalion stands at attention to begin the ceremony

Hundreds of friends and family members braved the weather and the partially plowed roads and parking lot to say goodbye and wish the civilian soldiers well on their deployment to Egypt. However, not everyone was fortunate enough to conquer the elements left in the snowstorm’s wake. Spc. Robert Otto was held up in traffic on Interstate 80 and missed the entire ceremony after a 90-minute commute from Cedar Rapids to Iowa City. A number of accidents and an earlier closing of the interstate had reduced traffic to a slow crawl.

Fortunately, Otto made it in time to join his family after the ceremony. Otto, a unit-supply specialist, joined the military during his senior year in high school. “I joined the 109th right after they came back from Iraq in 2004. I joined to serve my country and to receive the college benefits,” Otto said. “And right now, I’m ready to go.”

Spc. Otto (center) takes a moment to pose with his family: Exie (mother), Joseph (brother), and Terry (father)

Otto’s mother, on the other hand, was less eager for him to go, but she understood why he wanted to go. “I have the typical mother anxieties,” Exie Tobin said. “Although, better Egypt than Iraq.”

The 109th was joined by two other units, the 209th Area Support Medical Company and 67th Troop Command, as part of the Multinational Force & Observers peacekeeping mission, which will deploy to the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt after a brief mobilization at Fort Lewis, Wash., where they will be stationed for two to three months before final deployment.

The members of the 109th Medical Battalion will command and control three companies providing logistical, medical, aviation and explosive ordinance removal support to all 11 Multinational Force & Observers contingents. The mission of the MFO is to supervise the implementation of the security provisions of the Egyptian-Israeli Treaty of Peace and employ best efforts to prevent any violation of its terms.

The 109th was last activated on Jan. 24, 2003, and served 14 months before returning in March 2004.

In addition to friends and family, local dignitaries attended the ceremony, including Iowa City Mayor Regina Bailey and newly elected Iowa City council member Mike Wright. Neither Gov. Chet Culver or Iowa’s state delegation members were in attendance, but Lt. Col. Greg Hapgood read a letter from Sen. Chuck Grassley, and 2nd District Rep. Dave Loebsack’s aide, David Lesch, read a letter on his behalf.

Originally posted on the "Iowa Independent"


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