PIERCE CITY, Mo. —
As Joanna Peters posed for photographs with her grandson, Pvt. Trevor Carney, she could hardly hold the tears back.
When the family photo session was over, she had time to wipe her eyes. She’s both worried about her grandson and proud, too.
At age 18, Carney, of Wheaton, is the youngest of the 154 soldiers in the Missouri National Guard’s 276th Engineer Company that deployed Monday to Afghanistan.
In a ceremony at Pierce City High School, Gov. Jay Nixon presented the flag of Missouri to Carney to fly at the company’s base in Afghanistan. Presenting the state flag to the youngest member of the company is a tradition of the Missouri National Guard.
When Peters saw her grandson accept the flag from Nixon, she was overwhelmed with emotion.
“I was so proud,” the Cassville woman said.
As for his safety in Afghanistan, she said, “He’s already met someone who has been there before, and he’s going to stick to him like glue.”
That was the message Nixon and Maj. Gen. Stephen L. Danner, adjutant general of Missouri, shared with the soldiers. They were told that their training and their experience with the best equipment available would see them through their mission, but that if times got tough, they could turn to the veterans among them for help.
Danner told the hundreds of family members and friends who packed the gymnasium at the high school that their loved ones had no excuse for not communicating with friends and family back home.
Danner said, “If they don’t stay in touch with you, get in touch with me and I’ll make sure they get back in touch with you.”
Nixon told the soldiers that 6 million Missourians were profoundly thankful for “the honor, sense of duty and love of country” that they were demonstrating. He said he was certain they would serve with distinction and honor as they had done in responding to emergencies in Missouri.
Nixon cited the blizzard of 2011 and the tornado that struck Joplin four months later as examples of that service in times of emergency.
“Your service to Missouri will always be remembered,” he said. “You are standing on the broad shoulders of the citizen soldiers before you.”
Before the state flag was presented to Carney, Danner presented the American flag to Sgt. Mark Lorenz, 57, the oldest soldier in the unit.
Tom Williams, with the 203rd Engineer Battalion in Joplin, said the 276th Engineer Company, based in Pierce City, will deploy in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. They will be “in country” for several months.
The unit will conduct deconstruction operations and the dismantling of bases. International forces in Afghanistan, including those of the United States, are preparing to hand over responsibility for security to Afghan soldiers and police by the end of this year.
This will be the Pierce City company’s first deployment. The unit is led by Capt. Phil Kirk and 1st Sgt. Timothy Uptegrove. Before going to Afghanistan, the unit will receive additional training at Fort Bliss in Texas.
As spectators waved American flags and held up signs of support, Patty Halbmaier, of Cassville, watched her son-in-law, Nathan Burt, of Purdy, leave the gymnasium with his fellow soldiers.
Burt and his wife, Samantha, have five children who range in age from 10 months to 10 years. Halbmaier said she will be spending more time with her grandchildren while their father is deployed.
AFTER A CEREMONY at Pierce City High School, the soldiers met with family members and friends at the Lawrence A. Witt Armory on the south side of Pierce City. The armory was constructed after a tornado in 2003 caused extensive damage to the town’s historic armory. Pierce City has been a National Guard town since 1877.