Kelly McClanahan knows her fiancé is serving his country.
She knows he’s defending freedom and spreading democracy.
But that doesn’t make his deployment overseas any easier to stomach.
McClanahan was one individual out of hundreds of families, friends and well-wishers who turned out Friday, Feb. 5, for departure ceremonies at Camp Shelby, Miss., for more than 3,000 soldiers of the National Guard’s 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment.
The regiment is bound for Iraq, marking its second deployment to that country, the first coming in 2004.
McClanahan was there to send off Specialist Corey Newberry. The couple has been together for two years. It’s Newberry’s first deployment.
“You won’t ever see anything else like that,” McClanahan said of the ceremonies. “It was an experience to go through. The stands were completely crowded. It was a hard and difficult time.”
McClanahan traveled to Mississippi with Newberry’s family earlier in the week. They left Macon County on Sunday and returned the following Saturday.
Newberry’s family included Tim and Mary Quals, his step-dad and mom, and Todd and Heather Rollin, his brother-in-law and sister.
For McClanahan, it was a long drive back home.
“It was hard and difficult,” she said. “You know you’re not going to see somebody for a long time. You just want to sit back and think about if you told them you cared for them and loved them enough. Did I show them how much I really care about them? It just feels like somebody just ripped out your heart, because you’re not going to be able to see them for a long period of time.
“Luckily, I have great support from my family and his family. I don’t know what I would do without them. They’re great people to be around. I love them to death.”
Governor Phil Bredesen and his wife, Andrea Conte, were at the military post Friday to see off the Tennesseans, just as they did five years ago.
“Nothing humbles me more than to serve as your Commander in Chief,” Bredesen told the assembled soldiers.
He recognized and thanked families of the soldiers and offered a special “thank you” to soldiers who had deployed more than once, which represented the majority of the members of the 278th. This brings to nearly 20,000 the number of Tennessee Guardsmen called up since Sept. 11, 2001
The National Guard men and women have been at Camp Shelby since early December conducting specialized pre-deployment training. Newberry celebrated his 24th birthday on Jan. 21 while conducting the training.
The highlight of the departure ceremony was a full formation of the 3,000 soldiers, held on the post parade field with a review by Bredesen, Tennessee’s Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Max Haston, and military dignitaries from across the country.
“It’s humbling to stand before these great troopers,” Maj. Gen. Haston said. “You are the standard bearers of this nation,” he added. He also thanked soldiers’ families whom he described as “the Guard family.”
Other notables from Tennessee included Congressman Lincoln Davis, Congressman Marsha Blackburn, Congressman Zack Wamp, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, House Speaker Kent Williams, Commissioner of Veterans Affairs John Keys, and State Rep. Joshua Evans.
The 278th ACR is the Tennessee National Guard’s largest single unit, and the massive deployment affects 45 cities stretching tip-to-tip across Tennessee, all the way from Kingsport in the east to Henderson in the west.
McClanahan offered some advice for those who have family members or loved ones deploying overseas.
“Just pray for them,” she said. “Don’t watch the news, don’t read up on it on the internet – it just makes it more difficult. Just pray that they’re going to come home. Everything is going to be OK. Remember that you have your family that’s back home to fall back on.”