Middletown’s 324th Military Police Company is heading overseas once again, and more than 800 people packed Franklin High School’s auditorium Sunday to show the soldiers their support.
“This is really what is right with America,” said Maj. Gen. Mark Bartman, adjutant general of the Ohio National Guard, looking out across the Call to Duty Ceremony’s standing-room-only crowd. “This is what the National Guard is all about … the way our services are put together, so that we can come together on days like today and be able to see our heroes off as they go and do the bidding that this our country has asked them to do.”
The unit, which is based at Patrick L. Kessler Armory in Middletown, is being deployed to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba as part of a U.S. military joint task force.
The work the 127 Guardsmen will do there is “something maybe a little bit different, but just as important as anything else we do in the United States military today,” Bartman said.
Among the Guardsmen are five Franklin High School graduates, including Garrett Barker, Jacob Harbison, Matt Middleton, James Mullins and John Watts, according to school officials.
Soldiers said they were moved to see the massive show of community support before their yearlong deployment.
“It means a lot for us to have people look out for us and show that they really care about the things we’re doing,” said Harbison, 19, a private first class. “I appreciate it, and I know my company appreciates it as well.”
Although the unit is stationed in Middletown, Franklin residents have supported it as if it were their own on multiple occasions, according to Major General John Harris, assistant adjutant general and commander of the Ohio Army National Guard.
“Our soldiers get to go forward with the understanding that they have the community’s support,” Harris said. “They know their families will be taken care of, they know their employers will look out for them, and they know if there’s anything they need, not just the military family, but the entire community family is going to be there for them.”
Bob Gavin of Columbus, whose 24-year-old son Phil is part of the 324th and served a tour of duty in Afghanistan, said it was “awesome” to have such a ceremony for the soldiers.
“These people need to know … that people understand what they’re doing and think about them because the war (in Afghanistan and Iraq) is over to a lot of people,” Gavin said. “They don’t realize that men and women are still fighting this war on terrorism. That’s what these guys are doing and they need to know that … people think about them and care about them and respect them for what they’re doing.”
Jim Mears, a local American Legion Post officer who helped organize the Call to Duty Ceremony, said the packed auditorium showed both Middletown and Franklin’s support for the soldiers.
“We think if we can give them a good send off, then it will be a much better trip overseas and hopefully not take as much time coming back,” Mears said.