Families blocked from soldier's farewell

FAYETTEVILLE Governor Beverly Perdue and West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin joined military officials in a farewell ceremony for North Carolina Army National Guard's 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team (HBCT) at Fayetteville's Crown Coliseum.

The Coliseum has a maximum capacity of 9,300 people. The unit is sending 4,000 troops to Iraq, so thousands of family members showed up to see them off. It was a number that far exceeded the building's capacity.

When the building filled up, the Cumberland County Fire Marshall ordered the doors shut, and that left many frustrated families outside.

"I'm a decorated Vietnam vet and here I am to see my son serve in Iraq and I can't see him because of the poor planning," offered angry parent Gale Shafer.

"We've driven here for three hours and can't get in to see him. It's very disheartening," said parent Debra Roberson.

Families said they thought the situation could have been handled better by authorities.

The 30th is the National Guard's largest unit. According to military officials, the soldiers will depart for Iraq "in the days following this ceremony."

The deployment marks the brigade's second trip to Iraq. In 2004, the unit was the first National Guard Brigade Combat Team to be activated, deployed and control its own operations.

The soldiers returned in January and February 2005. During their mission they built schools, trained Iraqi security forces and established joint command centers with Iraqi security forces and patrolled the Iranian border with Iraqi border patrol.

The 30th is based in Clinton, with armories in communities from Wilmington to Charlotte; the brigade also includes a battalion from the West Virginia Army National Guard and a company from the Colorado Army National Guard.

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