The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

January 7, 2013

Athens-based National Guard unit deploying to Cuba

By Kim West

— HUNTSVILLE — For the second time in seven years, the 128th Military Police Company will serve an overseas deployment.

The 128th MP Co. held a deployment ceremony Saturday afternoon at The Rock Family Worship Center to allow its more than 170 soldiers to receive an official send-off before departing Sunday to a mobilization center at Fort Bliss, Texas, for training.

The Alabama Army National Guard unit will deploy to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom for a year. The 128th previously deployed 130 soldiers to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2006 to 2007.

The unit is commanded by Capt. Johnnie Scott, who promised the soldiers and their families “to bring everyone home.”

The 128th will provide security forces support to units based at Guantanamo Bay, which is home to a detention facility known commonly as “Gitmo.”

Hundreds of family members, elected officials and military brass crowded the sanctuary for the 50-minute ceremony, which ended with members of the 128th exiting to the familiar strains of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.”

The ceremony was attended by Alabama Army National Guard commander Maj. Gen. Perry Smith, 203rd Military Police Battalion commander Lt. Col. Mike Izzo and Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks.

Each member of the 128th was presented a Blue Star Service Flag, which family members can display while their loved ones are serving overseas.

Spec. Mark Rossman, a tall and lanky 22-year-old chemical, biological and radioactive materials specialist from Mobile, stood in the church lobby following the ceremony and patiently answered queries from various media outlets.

Rossman has a 3-year-old son, Skyler, and an 8-month-old daughter, Selena with his wife, Emily. He had a businesslike mindset toward his first deployment after joining the 128th six months ago.

“I think it’s going to be a pretty good first deployment,” Rossman said.

The mood following the ceremony was joyful and convivial, in part because the soldiers were released to their families before having to report back to duty the following day for the journey to Texas.

Soldiers clutched the hands of their children and hugged well-wishers, friends and family posed for photographs and one Guardsman said he was just waiting for his ride to arrive as the unit’s non-commissioned officers and officers bustled around the parking lot.

The 128th is part of the 203rd MP Battalion and includes units from Athens, Decatur, Hartselle, Moulton, Muscle Shoals and Florence. The 203rd Battalion — including HHD, 206th and 354th companies — deployed to Basra, Iraq, from 2009 to 2010. The battalion commanded eight MP companies and completed more than 3,000 missions.

The Army National Guard, which celebrated its 376th anniversary in December, has called more than 18,000 Alabama personnel into active duty since Sept. 11, 2001.