Parade salutes deploying Utah National Guard soldiers
Price • Flags lined 100 North and rippled in a warm summer breeze as cheers and claps echoed through town.
The cheers grew louder as two fire trucks slowly rolled past with Utah National Guard troops standing on top, waving goodbye to their community and families before heading to a one-year deployment in Afghanistan.
The parade Tuesday was held for members of the Utah National Guard's 1457th Engineer Battalion, 624th Engineer Company, and the send-off had Boy Scout troops and grandmothers standing shoulder-to-shoulder in united support.
Roanna Davis, 60, whose nephew Spc. Garth Johnson is being deployed, said patriotic pride had permeated the town, providing a sense of support for the troops.
"We're all behind them, and the more people that come out, the more they feel they've done the right thing [by enlisting]," Davis said.
Around 150 soldiers are deploying with the 624th, first to Fort Bliss near El Paso, Texas, for training. Then, they are expected to work for 10 months in Afghanistan, where they will raise buildings and other structures.
Members are from communities around the state, from North Logan to the Wasatch Front to Blanding.
Gary LaTour, a 74-year-old Air Force veteran who fought in both the Vietnam and Korean wars, said he hopes the parade showed the soldiers their service will be repaid as soon as they return home.
"[We want to] show them that we are behind them, and we're going to be here when they come back, too," LaTour said.
Sgt. Nate Woods said he remembers a similar parade held for deploying soldiers in 2003, when he was in junior high. Seeing that celebration was one of reasons he wanted to sign up for National Guard duty, he said.
"It's a different feeling on the other side of things" now, Woods added.
Garth Johnson, 26, said he could remember attending that earlier parade, when his uncle and other troops were deployed to Iraq.
He said it will be tough to leave his wife and three young boys, but the community support shown by the parade eased his doubts.
"When we were driving down the street, I had to take a couple of breaths," Johnson said. "It's very pleasant to know and reassuring that our community cares enough about us that they'll go to this extent."
Johnson, who was named after an uncle who died in the Vietnam War, said he hopes the parade will provide a mental snapshot to carry with him, long after the flags have been tucked away.
"I want to instill a picture in my mind of something I want to come home to," Johnson said. "I want this to still be here when I get back, and I'm proud to come back here."
The company will leave Wednesday from the Utah Air National Guard Base in Salt Lake City.
Individual soldiers in the 624th have deployed previously, the Guard said, but this is the first time the unit has deployed since it was created in 2008. The unit is based in Springville and has detachments in Price and Vernal.