By SHELLEY GRIESHOP
Like most moms, Mona Shinabery taught her young son to take
turns. He’s never forgotten that lesson.
“Travis told me it’s his turn now to go to war,”
said the Celina woman. “He said, ‘Mom, I’m
24 and I’m not married. There’s daddies over there
(in Iraq) who have kids back home, some guys have babies they’ve
never seen. It’s time for those guys to come home.’
Travis (T.J.) Shinabery, a 1998 Celina High School graduate,
will join more than 3,000 Ohio Army National Guard soldiers
who have been deployed for military service in Operation Iraqi
Freedom. The latest round of Ohio guardsmen mobilized will help
bring other soldiers home — some who’ve been in
the Middle East for nearly two years. They also will help rebuild
a country that has been devastated by the war.
This is the most Ohio guardsmen sent to war in history, according
to Guard spokesman James Simms.
“The Guard has always served a dual mission. Yes, they’re
here for natural disasters like floods and tornadoes, and they’re
called upon when there is rioting and other catastrophes. People
forget they also fight in wars,” Simms said.
In peacetime, National Guard units in each state answer to the
governor, but during national emergencies the president reserves
the right to mobilize them, putting the Guard in federal status.
There are currently 15,000 active National Guardsmen in Ohio
— about 115 based out of the St. Marys Armory. The next
closest units are in Lima, Piqua and Greenville.
Shinabery was joined by 27 other soldiers from the 612th Engineering
Batallion, Company A, of St. Marys, who headed off by the busloads
to Camp Atterbury, south of Indianapolis, Ind., on Sunday. The
St. Marys unit as a whole has not been deployed.
The group and hundreds of other guardsmen from across the state,
who are now at Camp Atterbury for training, will likely be sent
to Iraq by mid-February.
In the last week, send-off ceremonies were held in nine different
locations around Ohio as 1,121 soldiers said tearful goodbyes
to loved ones.
In December, Shinabery and three other area guardsmen were thrown
a farewell party by family and friends who have since formed
unofficial support groups among themselves.
Holly Bickar, 20, of Celina, finds it hard to talk about the
departure of her boyfriend, Brett Frilling of St. Marys, who
also left Sunday.
“It’s very emotional,” said the 2001 Celina
High School grad. “I keep thinking it’s his job
and he always says he wants to put his training to good use.
All I can do is pray and anxiously wait for him to come back.”
Homecoming for the group, however, could be at least 18 months
away including the training time, Simms said.
“They will be ‘boots on ground’ in Iraq for
at least one year,” he said. “They could actually
be in the country for 15 months.”
Frilling, 25, has worked as an assistant recruiter at the St.
Marys post for several years and is a six-year veteran guard.
He gives talks about his profession to area high schoolers and
escorts new recruits to Columbus for physicals and other business,
his mother said.
“He loves the Army and I support him, but I hated to see
him go,” said Wanda Frilling of St. Marys.
Rod Toler of Mendon joined other families at a farewell send-off
near Toledo, where he said goodbye to his stepson, Jason Gates.
Gates, a four-year guardsman, spent a couple weeks in Panama
with the guard during the last few years and was ready to serve
again, Toler said.
“They kept the guys on a roller coaster the last year.
They were on standby four of five times. Toward the end they
were almost as frustrated as excited to go,” Toler said.
Gates, 22, a Parkway High School graduate, is a certified welder
at Haulette Manufacturing in Celina. He’s also certified
to operate heavy equipment, something he’ll get plenty
of practice on as the unit helps rebuild the war-torn country.
“I told him to keep his head down and don’t trust
anyone but your best buddies,” said Toler, a Marine Corp
veteran who served in the Vietnam War in ’68 and ’69.
Andy Sanford, also a Celina High School graduate, put his job
at Dannon Yogurt in Minster on hold and got engaged during the
holidays before hopping on the bus Sunday en route to camp.
He, too, served in Panama last year building hospitals and schools.
“And he was ready to go again,” said his father,
Matt Sanford. “I’m upset that he has to go, but
I understand why.”
Andy Sanford's younger brother, Thomas Sanford, 19, will leave
Jan. 27 for boot camp in Missouri — the same camp attended
by his big brother — so he, too, can serve in the Guard.
Bickar said the hardest thing is not knowing when you’ll
hear from the soldiers the next time. She keeps her cell phone
near. “I’d hate to miss his call,” said the
pretty, young blonde.
She said watching the close-knit group of area soldiers prepare
for their journey made her and the rest of the families and
friends feel like one of the Guard, too — “it’s
like all of us are going, not just them.”
“The hardest part so far has been watching him get on
that bus,” she added.