Iraq-bound soldiers leave southern Utah families, communities
Cedar City • With tears, hugs and more than a few pained smiles, southern Utah said farewell on Saturday to the 474 soldiers of the Triple Deuce the 222nd Field Artillery Unit of the Utah National Guard that is bound, later this summer, for Iraq.
Several hundred family members and friends gathered to watch the soldiers fill two chartered jets in Cedar City on Saturday afternoon, and more than 1,000 gathered at the new St. George Airport in the evening to cheer on the remainder of the battalion, who filled another two jets.
The 222nd and its support unit, the 213th, will have advanced training at Camp Atterbury, Ind., and is expected to be sent to Iraq later this summer to provide security for coalition forces as they withdraw from Iraq.
The huge community send-off was no surprise to Angela Reece of Springville, who joined 30 or so family members in Cedar City to see off her brother-in-law, Gordon Dickinson. The clan all wore identical beige T-shirts with the words "Have guns will travel, 222nd" on their backs.
"A lot of these kids went to high school and elementary school together," said Reece, originally from Kanab. "They're close-knit."
The 222nd has units in Cedar City, St. George, Beaver, Fillmore and Richfield, but communities from throughout the region feed citizen soldiers into the Guard.
One soldier came from a greater distance: Ukraine.
Yuliya Hennessy is the daughter of a Russian army communications officer and granddaughter of a Russian army colonel. She is studying nursing at Dixie State College.
She joined the Guard a year ago but didn't realize she would go to war until she returned from basic training, about the same time she became a U.S. citizen.
"I didn't expect it, but I want to do it," said Hennessy, one of only a handful of women in the unit. The 35-year-old deployed from St. George.
"She's a lot more American than a lot of people here," said her husband, John Hennessy of Ivins. "She remembers the Soviet system."
Penny and Jim McConnell, of Cedar City, wiped away tears after saying farewell to their son, Lennie McConnell, even though they are old hands at Guard deployments. Lennie's brother has had five, and this is Lennie's second.
"It gets harder," said Penny McConnell. "They've been blessed all these other times, and you hope it's one more time."
Keith Christensen, a farmer and rancher from Cedar City, was feeling twice the emotion on Saturday.
Both of his sons, Brett and Casey, deployed with the 222nd, one of at least three sets of siblings in the unit.
"I'm proud and scared," said Christensen.
Brett Christensen said he knew when he joined the Guard in March 2010 that it likely would mean going to war the aspect that makes his father proud. "It's something I've always wanted to do."