09 August 2006

Deployment of National Guard to Kosovo

Gov. honors National Guard members heading to Kosovo

By NICK BROWN, Sun Staff

Tori Carnes, 8, of Haverhill, watches as the Massachusetts National Guard's Task Force Patriot marches to their farewell ceremony at Minuteman National Park in Concord yesterday. Carnes' stepfather is among the more than 600 soldiers being deployed to Kosovo. AP PHOTO/JULIA MALAKIE

CONCORD -- Led by the Concord Minutemen, about 600 members of the Massachusetts Army National Guard marched across the North Bridge yesterday.
But unlike the patriots who fired the "shot hear 'round the world" in the name of American independence 230 years ago, these soldiers were marching -- even if symbolically -- toward peace.
Hundreds gathered at the Minuteman National Park site to honor the guardsmen embarking on a peace-keeping mission in Kosovo this fall.
While the troops' family members expressed some concern about the mission, most said they were not as worried as they would be if their loved ones were going to Iraq.
Members of the 181st Infantry Battalion and 1st Squadron 182nd Cavalry, based in Melrose, will be deployed to Kosovo sometime this fall to keep peace during a political transition.
Yesterday, they were honored by local residents, family members, and speakers, including Gov. Mitt Romney.
"I am humbled in your presence," Romney said in a speech addressing the battalions. "Your families sacrifice just as much as you do, if not more. You and your families are the courageous ones. ... Serving as your governor has made me see the debt I owe to you for giving so much to our country."
State Rep. Cory Atkins, a Concord Democrat, told National Guard members they would not be going overseas alone.
"Our thoughts, hearts and minds are with you," said Atkins.
But families of National Guard members were more proud than worried yesterday.
"I come from a strong family," said Mary Beth Doyle, whose son, Nathan, is a specialist in the 182nd Cavalry. "I'm proud of his decision. If it was Iraq and not Kosovo, I'd be a little more concerned, but no less proud."
Ron Cote, of Lowell, served in Vietnam and said he is proud of his 34-year-old son's mission.
"I'm fine," said Cote. "I think it's a mission that's a little less dangerous. ... (If Christopher were going to Iraq), it would be a little tougher, but if that were his mission, that would be his mission."
Said Joyce Cote, Christopher's mother, "I'm always worried. You never know what's going to happen."
First Lt. Joe DiGiovanni, who has a 2-year-old son and was in the midst of starting a law firm when he found out he would be heading overseas, said he is "looking forward to getting (the mission) done and heading home."
But DiGiovanni, a Peabody native, carries no bitterness at having to leave his family and career behind for up to 18 months.
"I was just starting to get established as a lawyer, but every soldier knows the commitment you make," he said.
His wife, Daniela, a native of Germany, said she views American politics "from a different perspective."
"If he were going to Iraq, that would be a different story," she said. "But if I go to Germany to visit my family or something, I can see my husband, so it's not as bad."
Spc. Chris Caswell, 22, of Peabody, is embarking on his second deployment. In 2004, he went to Sinai on a peacekeeping mission similar to the one his 182nd Cavalry will carry out in Kosovo. Caswell said he doesn't see a large difference between his mission and Iraq.
"Peacekeeping missions are more or less the same," said Caswell. "All you're doing is helping a country stay on its feet. It's just that Iraq has a few more problems."
The hardest part, said Caswell, is "leaving my family behind." The support groups, he said, are meant to show families of military that "they aren't in it alone."