More than 3,000 Tennessee Guard members Iraq-bound

Published 9:42 pm Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Among more than 3,000 Tennessee National Guard members training for duty in Iraq, Spc. Michael Caudill and his wife, Amber, lingered for one last embrace before the buses left Knoxville, Tenn.

The soldiers of the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment left armories Sunday, headed to Camp Shelby, Miss., to train for their deployment to Iraq that starts in February.

Caudill said a harder farewell will come later, when he has to leave his home in White Pine after a Christmas visit.

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The Caudills married in May. He told The Knoxville News Sentinel that “leaving your family’s the hardest part.”

In Chattanooga, Capt. Casey Benzel of the 1/181st Field Artillery Battalion told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that the timing is bad “right before Christmas, but mostly everyone is ready to go.”

Buses headed out from as far east as Kingsport and as far west as Henderson, rolling past crowds of cheering, waving and crying husbands, wives, sons, daughters, fathers, mothers and friends.

Katie Tyndall wasn’t born the last time her father, Maj. Mark Tyndall, headed overseas. He hopes he’ll be back in time for the 11-month-old’s second birthday.

“I don’t think you’re ever ready for it, but you figure out a way to survive,” said Katie’s mother, Kim Tyndall. “We’re just taking it one day at a time.”

The trip marks the second deployment for the 278th, which last saw action in Iraq from 2004-05. The regiment, the largest in the Tennessee National Guard, expects a different training regimen and a different mission this time as they prepare to help close out the drawdown of U.S troops in Iraq.

“We won’t be training as long, but it’ll be every bit as intense and every bit as thorough as last time,” said Col. Frank McCauley, the regiment’s deputy commander. “We’ll still be working with civilians and providing security, kind of like a military highway patrol.”

Donations are enabling the soldiers to charter buses home for a week at Christmas.

About half of them served during the last deployment. Others have joined in the years since.

Hands were raised high in group prayer in Chattanooga as family members cast blessings upon roughly 100 soldiers headed for the training in Mississippi.

Spc. John Chandler was last in Iraq in 2004.

“We prepare for whatever comes our way,” said Chandler, a nine-year Guard veteran from Apison.