Vermont Army Guard deploys 330 to Middle East

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(Host) Wednesday’s sendoff of Vermont Army National Guard troops was the last scheduled deployment, for now. After training in Mississippi, this group will probably be sent to Iraq to provide security. Friends and family came to Essex Junction to hear speeches from the governor and other officials, and to say their goodbyes.

One of those families shared their morning with VPR’s Steve Zind.

(Singing of the National Anthem.)

(Zind) A young woman named Erica St. Louis sang the national anthem. Her father was among the 330 guard members being deployed. There were speeches and there was ceremony. But on this very public occasion there were countless private moments.

Scott McLaughlin’s short cropped blonde hair emphasizes his ears. The Hardwick soldier’s camouflage fatigues are loose on his thin frame. His mother Vickie is among the family members who’ve come to see him off.

(Vickie McLaughlin) “I’m very proud of my son, but at the same time, my heart aches. But I’m trying to be brave.”

(Zind) Standing next to her husband, Vickie McLaughlin’s gaze stops often on her son. Like the other families, in the last days the McLaughlins have spent as much time together as they could. Last Sunday, there was a big family meal.

(Vickie McLuaghlin) “He wanted turkey with my homemade biscuits and his favorite, strawberry shortcake.”

(Zind) Vickie McLaughlin is wearing a big yellow bow in her hair. That’s so arriving family members could spot her in the crowd. And slowly they gather: Scott’s mother-in-law and sister-in-law. Then an uncle and a couple of cousins.

Each offers him a hug and a few words. Scott McLaughlin is a quiet person, but he’s quick to smile and greet the people who stop to wish him well.

(Scott McLaughlin) “When I come back, we’ll all have to get together. I’ve got a bunch of land. We’ll have a big party.”

(Zind) McLaughlin seems pretty calm now. He says that wasn’t the case last summer when word came that he would be part of the group heading overseas.

(Scott McLaughlin) “Well, when we first got the alert order a long time ago, it was pretty emotional then.”

(Zind) Scott’s wife Nicole says she hasn’t cried today. Then she adds, ‘yet.’

(Nicole McLaughlin) “It’s going to be tough, real tough. But we’ll make it through.”

(Zind) She holds their seven-month old daughter, Molly. Son Tyler is circling through the legs of the grown ups. He holds up five fingers to show how old he is. Then he holds up another two to show how old he’ll be the next time he sees his father.

(Tyler McLaughlin) “When my dad comes back I will be this many.”

(Zind) Ted Mallory, the McLaughlins’ pastor, arrives. The family forms a circle in the midst of the hubbub and Mallory offers a prayer.

(Mallory) “Lord, may the days seem short until Scott’s return. We ask this through Christ, Amen.”
(Family) “Amen.”

(Zind) Then it’s time for the Guard members to fall in and get ready to board the buses. It’s time to say goodbye.

“I love you daddy. All right. Goodbye.”

(Zind) As the ceremony ends, the Guard members walk in a line outside to the buses. Many raise a hand in a final wave to family members who are now lost in the crowd.

“That’s right, they’re off. They’re our soldiers. You wave that flag, buddy.”

(Zind) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Essex Junction.

(Host) More than 1,300 members of the Vermont guard are now on missions overseas.

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