Engineering company departs Grand Junction for Iraq duty
Twenty-one members of the 282nd Engineer Co. are bound for Texas, then Iraq, after leaving Grand Junction to cheers, tears and flag-waving Friday morning.
Members of the unit gathered in 8-degree temperatures on Orchard Mesa at the Gunnison Reserve Center, surrounded by family, friends and dozens of motorcycles ridden by members of the Patriot Guard, waiting to escort them through Grand Junction.
Pfc. Aleisha Klouzek, 25, tucked her daughters, 4-year-old Kyra, and 1 1/2-year-old Kaleigh, into their car seats and hugged the relatives who will care for them when she’s on her yearlong tour of duty on the opposite side of the world.
When not on duty, Klouzek works in human resources at StarTek.
“It’s something I need to do,” Klouzek said.
Sgt. Matthew Coonts said he is eager to get to Iraq.
“I’m excited,” Coonts said. “It’s nation building. It’s a chance to make things better over there.”
An engineer unit builds roads, buildings and other construction projects and can complete demolition work.
For Spc. Donald Ocampo, this will be his third tour in Iraq, yet another opportunity to find out something new.
“I like learning about different cultures and people,” Ocampo said.
Julie Dominguez’s son, Justin, is a Marine who recently returned from Afghanistan. She and Julie Whiting, whose son, also named Justin, is a Marine now serving in Afghanistan, joined the crowd bidding farewell to the Grand Junction soldiers.
“We do this for all the soldiers,” Dominguez said. “We make sure they have a good send-off and a good homecoming.”
Through Military Families of America (http://www.militaryfam-iliesofamerica.webs.com) they also stay in contact with people in the military and arrange for delivery of care packages.
Fifth Street was lined with well-wishers waving flags, something Dominguez said was heartening.
“They need to know they’re supported,” she said.
Crowds gathered at Ninth Street and Pitkin Avenue, and fifth-graders from Holy Family School chanted “USA!, USA!” while waiting for the military contingent to pass by.
Warmed with coffee from sponsors American National Bank and KEKB, about 100 people, including one in a bald eagle costume, broke into cheers and waves as the Dallas-bound bus passed by.
Waving in the cold was “better than being in school,” fifth-grader Randall Fox said. And of the troops, he said, “I hope they’re safe.”