First Lt. Steven Easley stood at attention in his Army fatigues, tears on his solemn face, as speaker after speaker delivered elegant words about what was to come. Exactly what that is, though, remains unknown until Easley and his 111 colleagues—fellow soldiers of the 1193rd Panel Bridge Company—arrive at their destination. The only certainty is that it will include Kuwait along the way.
Lined up in rock solid formation, Easley, an information systems coordinator in the University’s office of admission, and his Ohio National Guard companions were given an emotional send-off in a ceremony at the Cintas Center on Wednesday, Feb. 19. More than 900 people—parents, wives, husbands, children and friends—attended the ceremony that included local and state dignitaries, a color guard presentation and the playing of the National Anthem.
The company, which specializes in building bridges that can be quickly erected and dismantled, is one of three Ohio National Guard units activated in February as part of the buildup of U.S. troops in the Middle East in the war on terrorism. Their year-long deployment in support of U.S. Central Command could be extended by six months. The company’s headquarters are at the armory on Reading Road about a mile from campus.
“Your response today says a great deal about the character of each of you and your families,” Major General John Smith said during the ceremony. “I pledge to you my unwavering support the entire time you are deployed. It is my hope our prayers keep our soldiers safe and bring about a more secure world and a safer America.”
Easley will be writing regular dispatches about his experiences for the Xavier magazine web site. His first installment is expected in about two weeks, or when he lands in Kuwait. He says he’s nervous about the long deployment and separation from his wife and family.
“I’m not a war person,” says Easley, who is trained as an engineer and a demolitions expert. “I don’t want to fight people. I like what I do—working with people and building bridges.”
Easley was featured in the winter 2002 edition of Xavier magazine in a profile that examined his traumatic childhood and the relatives who helped him overcome barriers on his quest to earn two degrees from Xavier.
After tearful farewells, the company departed in a convoy headed for Camp Atterbury, Ind., for a week of training. The future may include a two-week stay at Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo., for additional training before shipping overseas.