Whitehall says goodbye to troops headed for Africa


 Messenger photos by Dianne Garrett

Specialist Atahiya Abenaya receives a Blue Star Banner and yellow carnation from Lt. Col. Bjorn Anderson during a ceremony Jan. 4 prior at the Army Reserve Center in Whitehall.  Atahiya is one of 36 troops who deployed Jan. 5 to the Horn of Africa for a one-year mission to serve civilians with Delta Company 412th Civil Affairs Battalion (Special Operations Airborne).

Whitehall Mayor John Wolfe presents a proclamation to members of Delta Company 412th Civil Affairs Battalion  during a farewell ceremony for 36 troops January 4.  He declared it "412th Civil Affairs Battalion Day" in Whitehall. To the mayor’s left are Congressmen Dave Hobson and Pat Tiberi.

It’s only early January, and already our state and country have experienced the largest military deployment this year since World War II.  

A total of 1,600 troops were deployed in recent days from Ohio, and an additional 800 from Michigan.  Of that number, 36 members of Delta Company 412th Civil Affairs (Special Operations Airborne) from the Army Reserve Center in Whitehall, left Jan. 5 for the Horn of Africa.

The troops were honored Jan. 4 with a farewell ceremony before leaving .  Specialist Atahiya Abenaya explained that their year-long mission will be to take care of the civilians.  

The three-year veteran said they will be distributing water and doing immunizations.  

"We will be helping the people just like you see troops doing on television," Abenaya said.  

The cheerful specialist said that the mission is more laid back than others, and she was looking forward to going on her first deployment.

Mayor John Wolfe presented the group with a proclamation declaring Jan. 4 as "412th SOA Day in Whitehall."    

He thanked the troops for their service, and wished them a safe mission, noting that his office is there to help in any possible way.

Also on hand were Congressmen Dave Hobson and Pat Tiberi.   

Hobson recalled being on active military duty in 1961.  

"No one was there to see us off or when we returned.  Nobody cared," Hobson said.  

After he became a member of Congress 18 years ago,  he was determined to attend as many ceremonies as he could to let troops and families know that he and others care.  

He told them and the families that they only need contact his office if they need anything, and that he or a representative comes to city hall to speak with constituents on a regular basis.  All they need to do is call Mayor Wolfe’s office to find out when he will be there.  The number is 338-3106.

In closing, he told them that he hopes to visit them while they are in Africa.  Hobson gave each troop a pen, and told them how important it is to stay in touch with their loved ones.  

He also encouraged families to send care packages and letters often.  

The congressman chuckled when he told them that the reason for the pen was so that if they can’t use email for any reason, they have no excuse not to write home.  

Tiberi reiterated that one of his functions as a congressional leader is to serve the troops and families.   He mentioned that citizens are always requesting names to be able to send packages to troops; however, they can no longer give that information out to the public.  

What people can do is contact their local VFW post, which can put them in touch with families to see what their needs may be.  

As he closed, he said, "The mission has changed during this battle, and you have stepped up.  Thanks for that commitment."

The unit commander, Lt. Col. Bjorn Anderson, pointed out the empty flag stand for the company’s flag.  

"It will remain empty until you return," " he said.

After presenting plaques to the guest speakers, the troops were then presented with the Blue Star Banner and a yellow carnation, which they in turn, presented to their loved ones.  

The banner was created in 1917.  It was designed and patented by World War II Army Capt. Robert L Queissnor of the 50th Ohio Infantry.  The banner is hung in the windows of family members.  The blue star signifies hope and pride.  A gold star indicates a death while on active duty.

Kim Warren, of Jackson, Ohio, attended with her daughter, Jennifer Downey.  

Eyes full of tears, she shared that this is the second deployment for her son, Sgt. Kevin Downey.  

"I am not handling this one as well as I did the first time we saw him off.  The first time he went to Iraq and returned home wounded," she shared.  "I’m very proud of him."  

She is praying for a safer trip for her son this round, and asked that citizens just keep them all in their prayers.


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