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Ready to ship out

With tear-filled eyes, Jessenia J. Wong of Allentown hands her 10-month-old son, Isaiah, over to his father, John, after a ceremony for the 11th MP Brigade at the Wachovia Arena.

Aimee Dilger PHOTOS/THE TIMES LEADER

Soldiers line up at a deployment ceremony on Monday.

The 89 soldiers who gathered at Wachovia Arena in Wilkes-Barre Township on Monday for a deployment ceremony will be together for the next 400 days fighting the war against terrorism.

Most are from Northeastern Pennsylvania and include a brother-and-sister team and a mother-and-son team. They come from an array of states, from as far away as Washington and California. Others are from neighboring New Jersey, New York and Maryland.

“They represent the fabric of America,” said Brig. Gen. Robert W. Kenyon. “They are students, lawyers, teachers, laborers, businessmen and women, business owners, ministers, policemen and homemakers. They are your neighbors and your friends; they are your bosses and your subordinates; and they are your patrons and your providers. They are not in the Army; they are the Army.”

The 89 soldiers of the U.S. Army Reserve 11th Military Police Brigade, Ashley, will head to Fort Bliss, Texas, today for additional training and then await deployment to an unannounced site in the global war on terror.

Their mission is to provide command, control, staff planning and supervision of internment and resettlement operations.

While the soldiers know they have an important assignment awaiting them, thoughts turned to family on Monday.

Maj. Bill Feher of Sweet Valley said he will meet up with his sister, Sgt. 1st Class Mary Kaplowitz of Kingston, when he gets to Fort Bliss. Kaplowitz was sent ahead as part of the unit’s advance team, Feher said.

“I’ll definitely miss my family,” Feher said as his wife, Heather, and their three children stood at his side. “But I’m proud to be a soldier, and I’ll do my job. My family is proud to be in the military.”

Feher works for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Sgt. Ryan Rother and Sgt. Timothy Graham, both of Dallas, are being deployed for the second time. They served in Iraq with the U.S. Marine Corps in 2005. Rother is recently married and he and his wife, Nicole, are expecting a son – Charlie – in September.

“I might be able to come back for my son’s birth,” Rother said. “But today’s ceremony is great. It shows how much the community supports us, and that’s important.”

Rother said leaving his family finally hit him on Sunday.

“I was watching the lightning and the rain and I realized I have two days to say goodbye to everybody,” Rother said. “It’s never easy.”

Graham said what many of the soldiers said, that being together as a unit helps to cope with the extended time away from home.

“We’re all there for each other,” Graham said.

Brian Zendarski, 19, of Glen Lyon, said it’s better to go to war now, when he is young, than later in life.

“I’ve gotten to know a lot of people in my unit,” Zendarski said. “We’ve really gotten close and we will be there for each other.”

Jessenia J. Wong of Allentown was holding her 10-month-old son, Isaiah, as she waited for her husband, John, to arrive to see her off.

“It’s a sad time,” she said. “But I’m sure our time over there will go quick. Hopefully, we will finish our mission and come back to our families.”

Many veterans of different wars came to see the soldiers off. Howard W. Lee Jr., president of Friends of the Forgotten, said about 20 members of his organization made the trip to show support for the brigade.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Lee said of the send-off ceremony. “We were in Vietnam and nobody came out to send us off or to welcome us home. These soldiers deserve a send-off. We support all veterans.”

Lee said many of his group took work off to attend the ceremony.

“We’re here to give something back that we never got,” Lee said. “A lot of soldiers sacrificed a lot to serve in Vietnam. Many of them never came back.”

Kaylee Kresge, 7, of Ransom, sat in the audience with her dad, Terry, and her sister, Andrea, 19, and brother Tyler, 16. The Kresges were there to say goodbye to their mom and wife, Jackie. Kaylee held a banner that said her mom’s unit was “the best.”

“It’s something you have to do,” said Terry Kresge, a veteran himself. “We can do it. We’re proud of our country. If I was still in, I’d be going with her.”

Mary Grace Galada, of Nanticoke, and Sharon Mutter of Wilkes-Barre, are nurses at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center. They said they came out to support the troops and the veterans.

“We’re here to do whatever we can,” Galada said. “We love our veterans, and we respect them all.”

U.S. Rep. Paul E. Kanjorski, D-Nanticoke, had a brief message for the soldiers: “We hold you in our hearts and we hold you in our minds.”

Sgt. Robert Munden of Allentown was standing with his wife of two years, Lauren, as they were preparing for the next 400 days.

“We’re excited,” Munden said. “We’ll get through this.”

Lauren said classes conducted by the Army really helped prepare for the long separation.

“We’ve met a lot of great people,” she said. “It’s all about support.”

To see additional photos from Monday’s deployment

ceremony of the 11th Military Police Brigade, go to

www.timesleader.com

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