PINELLAS PARK — Family and friends said farewell Thursday to an Army Reserve military police battalion heading to Iraq.
About 110 well-wishers, most waving tiny American flags, jammed an auditorium at the C.W. Bill Young Armed Forces Center in Pinellas Park during the morning mobilization ceremony. Parents and spouses dabbed at their eyes while Army commanders and U.S. Rep. Young offered words of encouragement to the stoic troops.
The 72 soldiers are headed to Camp Shelby in Mississippi, where they will train for a little more than a month before deploying to Iraq.
Lt. Col. Richard Giles and his 317th Military Police Battalion will back up military police units in Iraq. They are expected to be in Iraq for 400 days.
Young, a Republican from Indian Shores, told the soldiers: "America loves you. America respects you. America appreciates you," and implored them to "do your job. Do it well and come home safe."
The unit, composed of reserve officers, was deployed in 1996 on a U.N. mission in Haiti and in 2003 for the invasion of Iraq.
"A lot of us are from different walks of life, but we've done this before," said Sgt. Mario Benjamin, 30, of Atlanta. "This is not our first rodeo."
While stationed in Iraq, the soldiers get two weeks of leave to visit home if they wish.