Capt. David Bird took the stage Saturday at Texas Woman's University, greeting the assembled guardsmen.
"Good afternoon, Rawhide construction company," Bird said to the men and women of the Texas Army National Guard's 236th Engineer Company.
"Good afternoon, sir," they replied in unison.
On the eve of their deployment to Wisconsin, the men and women of Bird's unit gathered for a deployment ceremony in their honor. The company will spend a couple months at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin before heading to Afghanistan, where the guardsmen will construct buildings on military bases. The company is made up of carpenters, plumbers and electricians.
Bird told the estimated 900 to 1,000 people attending the event at TWU's Kitty Magee Arena that the men and women are from all over Texas - from the Dallas-Fort Worth area to Abilene to Houston. They range in age from 18 to 60. Some have had additions to their families, while others are dealing with losses. Some are leaving school, while others are leaving work.
But they all have one thing in common: "You all showed up," he said.
Bird told the company that it's going to "a part of the world that doesn't understand us" to build not only structures but relationships, as well.
"I can make no promises to you and your families but this: I will do everything in my power to take care of you and to take care of your families."
Others who addressed the troops were TWU Chancellor and President Ann Stuart and Denton City Council member Kevin Roden, as well as Brig. Gen. Lester Simpson, who recently returned from a tour of duty overseas.
"Afghanistan is a harsh country," he told the troops, adding that their training would help them through that.
Simpson told them to rely on their training and one another.
"Most importantly, go over there and do what you're trained to do and you'll do well," he said.
Virgil Aldag, the chaplain who gave the opening and closing prayer, ended the ceremony by adapting a quote from Ronald Reagan. "Some people wonder all their lives if they made a difference," he said. "The men and women of the 236th and their families don't have that problem."
Aldag said Reagan didn't know the men and women serving the country today, but "I think he would agree."
Many local organizations pitched in to help make the mobilization ceremony possible, including Vietnam Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States and the American Legion.
"All these veterans in the area have been so helpful," said Amy O'Keefe, TWU director of commuter and non-traditional student services.
A local Boy Scouts group helped put up flags outside Pioneer Hall, and members of Guyer High School's Junior ROTC presented the colors. Cadet Col. Danielle Sweatmon, a senior at Guyer, said she enjoys presenting the colors because of the respect she and the other JROTC members are shown during the ceremony.
After the ceremony, the departing company gathered for a reception with their families and friends.
Tawana Dreyer of Wills Point came to the mobilization ceremony to show her support.
Her husband is in the Army and served with some of the 236th Engineers.
"It's just kind of the way it works," she said. "We try to show support any way we can."
Dreyer, the mother of three children, knows what it's like for the family members left behind.
"It's hard because it put me in a single-parent role," she said.
She relies on her Family Readiness Group for support. For families, the key to making it through a deployment is having a good support group, she said.
Spc. Henry Reid, who's about to depart on his second tour of duty, plans to spend as much time as he can with his family before he deploys.
"Pretty much have as much fun as I can with them," he said.
His wife, Tera, said she's sad he'll be leaving.
"But," she added, "I know what he signed up for."
RACHEL MEHLHAFF can be reached at 940-566-6889. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.