LAKE OZARK Mo. – Warrior support for Soldiers before, during and after deployment was the key topic recently at the Missouri National Guard's 35th Engineer Brigade Engineer Ball at Lodge of the Four Seasons.
The ball, in its 34th year, is a gathering open to all Missouri Guard engineers that occurs almost annually and is presented by the brigade, which is headquartered at Fort Leonard Wood. It was the first time to host the ball for Col. William Blaylock II, who took over as brigade commander in December of 2012.
"This was awesome and a great honor," said Blaylock, who lives in Eureka. "The engineer community in Missouri is bigger than the brigade and the brigade is spread out across the state. So the ball gives an opportunity for leaders within the brigade and our engineers outside the brigade to come together. There is a lot of camaraderie within the regiment and this is our opportunity to get together, reminisce, and honor those who are deployed and their spouses."
Col. Gary Gilmore, state chaplain and the ball's guest speaker, recounted the story of Elmer the Engineer, who served during World War I, to more than 300 of the state's citizen-Soldier engineers and their Families. Through the story we learn the importance correspondence from home, whether it be letters or care packages, played in Elmer's moral and well-being while he was deployed for more than a year to France.
"My three points were having your own network of support, recognizing that your experience won't be like everybody else's experience – you may go on the same trip but it is uniquely yours – and then realizing that it's not the end of the world," said Gilmore, who lives in Mount Vernon. "You go and then you come home. There is more to your life than one deployment, so fit it into the larger story of your life."
Gilmore said Family Warrior Support is about how Soldiers and their Families prepare for deployment, how they sustain the Soldier while deployed and then how they are reunited.
"I wanted to say that the chaplains and Missouri Guard Warrior Support programs are there for these Guardsmen, but we can't do it all," Gilmore said. "Everybody needs their own support network to get through a deployment."
The audience also learned that Elmer is Gilmore's grandfather.
"Having heard his story and seen his diary, I just drew how the experiences of a previous generation of Soldiers could help us," Gilmore said. "One of the subtexts of Elmer's diary was that he didn't get enough letters. Whenever he didn't get enough letters, he would write letters home and then he would get letters back. He realized that he had to keep communications going both ways."
Gilmore said Elmer also didn't get his care package from home at Christmas like many others in his unit, but did receive it about six weeks late.
"It got lost and delayed in the mail and he's waiting for it on New Year's Eve, but he still says 'this is the end of the greatest year of my life,' in his diary," Gilmore said. "For a Soldier to say that about what he's doing and how he's serving while still being connected to his loved ones back home, far away, I just thought that was a striking comment."
For his efforts, Gilmore, who deployed with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 35th Engineer Brigade, of Fort Leonard Wood, from 2007-2008 to Iraq, was presented with a coveted crystal engineer castle, the symbol of the Army engineers.
"Those are badges of honor amongst the engineers and what a privilege it is that they shared one of those with me," Gilmore said. "I already feel like a Family member having served with the engineers, but to be honored like that makes me feel double special."
During the ball, the audience saw a short film and slideshow about the recent activities of the 1138th Engineer Company, of Farmington and Fredericktown, which currently is the only Guard engineer unit in the state deployed to Afghanistan.
The unit was represented by five of their spouses, including JoLynn McClarney, wife of Sgt. 1st Class James McClarney a platoon sergeant with the 1138th. The two have come to every engineer ball since 1998 with the exception of two, when James was deployed both times.
Three awards were presented at the ball; the first was a Silver Order of the De Fleury Medal to retired Col. Mitchell Passini. The silver medal is awarded to an individual who has rendered outstanding and significant support or service to the Engineer Regiment.
Army Commendation Medals were presented the brigade's Best Warrior Competition winners. They went to Staff Sgt. Ryan Williams, who lives in Clark, and Pfc. Stoney Tyler, who lives in Rolla. Williams is part of the 1438th Engineer Multi-Role Bridge Company, of Macon, while Tyler is with the 335th Engineer Platoon (Area Clearance), of Rolla.
The Best Warrior Competition is held annually at all levels and is broken down into two categories -- one for Soldiers, who are specialists and below, and the other for noncommissioned officers, who are sergeants and above - within the enlisted ranks.
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