Sgt. Jane Strand, center, attends a farewell ceremony for a National Guard brigade based in Morrisville. Her youngest son, Pvt. Timothy Strand, 18, will deploy with her. But on Thursday he was in Alabama for training.
Staff Photos by Ethan Hyman
Morrisville outfit faces tour in Iraq
Martha Quillin, Staff Writer Comment on this story
RALEIGH - Jane Strand won't have to wonder how her son is doing as he deploys for the first time with the N.C. National Guard to Iraq in a few weeks. She'll be right there with him.
Sgt. Strand and her son, Pvt. Timothy Strand, are part of the 449th Theater Aviation Brigade, based in Morrisville. The Guard held a farewell ceremony for the brigade Thursday afternoon, an event designed to honor the families of the service members as much as those in uniform.
Several state lawmakers attended, along with representatives of the state's congressional delegation and a host of current and retired military officers.
Gerald A. Rudisill Jr., chief deputy secretary of the N.C. Department of Crime Control and Public Safety, addressed the hundreds who gathered at a North Raleigh church for the ceremony, acknowledging a truth they all knew: When a Guard unit is activated, it brings into service a whole community of family members, co-workers and employers who must assume the roles those in uniform step out of when they go to war.
The 449th is expected to be in Iraq until around Labor Day 2009.
Besides Strand and her son, the unit also takes with it two married couples, along with the brother-in-law of one of those married men.
Strand, 48, of Jacksonville joined the Marine Corps at age 17 and served 11 years. She got out to raise her six children and waited, she said, for her husband -- also a Marine -- to retire. As soon as he did, she joined the Guard.
When she did, she says, she also assumed the rank of mom to a collection of younger recruits. Some have a lower rank than hers, others a higher rank.
During Thursday's ceremony, Strand was the stoic sergeant, her gray hair in a taut bun at her neck, her brown eyes focused forward on the dignitaries who wished her and her fellow soldiers Godspeed. But after the ceremony, when Guard Spec. Felicia Deandra stepped up with a goodbye hug, Strand's eyes filled with tears.
"These are my other children," she said of Deandra and other Guardsmen, one of whom rented Strand a room in his house while she was in Morrisville for training.
Strand, a computer technician for the Guard in her regular job, will work in human resources when the 449th arrives in Iraq. The 449th is an aviation brigade headquarters unit that will command about 2,500 Army aviation soldiers from several states. The North Carolina soldiers will work for the 10th Mountain Division in southern Iraq.
N.C. National Guard spokesman Maj. Matt Handley says soldiers of the 449th will command subordinate units that will conduct reconnaissance and security, air assault and air movement, attack and combat service support missions.
Timothy Strand, the youngest of Sgt. Strand's brood at age 18, joined the National Guard on July 3. He missed the farewell ceremony Thursday because he's in Aviation Operations school in Alabama. He'll rejoin the 449th before the group leaves for Iraq. Strand's oldest son is in the Army.
Strand said her youngest wanted to deploy with her because he needed to keep an eye on her. She'll let him think that, she said.
Strand said she wasn't worried for herself or either of her sons.
"Things can happen anywhere," she said. "Nothing is guaranteed in this life or the next, and you have to be ready for whatever is in your path.
"Attitude has everything to do with it." Still, she was a little concerned, she said, about her retired military husband, Bill, who's staying behind to look after the kids and grandkids.