Soldiers prepare to head back out

Soldiers prepare to head back out

PARIS -- Safety is on everyone's minds now that about 120 soldiers based in Edgar County are getting deployed to Afghanistan.
PARIS -- Safety is on everyone's minds now that about 120 soldiers based in Edgar County are getting deployed to Afghanistan. The Illinois National Guard's 1544th Transportation Company got notice they're heading back overseas.

That company has already been through a lot in the past few years. Five soldiers died and more than two dozen were seriously hurt during a tour in Iraq. That ended in 2005. People in the community say, no matter what happens, they're proud to call those soldiers their own.

If you live around Paris, you know how much military service means. When you drive down Main Street into town, the first thing you see is a memorial in Kiwanis Park. It's dedicated to those who bravely served, but never came back. That's the risk for anyone who knows a soldier or has enlisted.

"I joined the 1544th in 1969," said Chuck McDaniel, who lives in Paris. "It wasn't even the 1544th then."

Decades have passed since then, but the unit still serves the same purpose.

"The transportation unit, you just get requests to haul people, cargo, beans, bullets, whatever," said McDaniel.

People from around there still feel the connection.

"It's a heartfelt group of people that this community always have backed and they're so important to our community," said Paris Mayor Craig Smith.

And they still feel the pain.

"This group has really done their fair share," said Smith. "Everybody around the state of Illinois knows what this group, these fine children, have been through."

They've been through loss, including soldiers like Shawna Morrison. The former University of Illinois student was the first woman from the Illinois National Guard to die in Iraq. Her family members say she lived to serve.

"She just loved making everybody else's life better," said Shawna's brother, Allan Morrison. "It made her life better."

"That's the hard part," said McDaniel. "Anytime you do something like that, you take that chance."

That chance is exactly that; a chance. It's a risk soldiers take for the opportunity to serve.

"We know they'll do the best job," said Smith. "They're a well-trained group and they'll do what they have to do."

There aren't many details available about a timeline for the deployment. But a ceremony this fall will give soldiers a better idea about when they'll head out. Their tour is expected to last about a year, including training.

Some people have raised questions about why the company would be deployed after President Obama announced plans to pull troops out of Afghanistan. No word yet about their specific assignments, but since they are a transportation company, soldiers could be helping move equipment out of the country.
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