From Seal Beach to Sacramento, members and families of the 184th Battalion gathered in Modesto to prepare for the upcoming deployments to Kosovo and Iraq.
Gen. Keith Jones of Sacramento will command the mission to Kosovo. He told the audience how crucial the home front was to the Guard.
"We can't do what we do without the volunteers from Family Readiness Group," he said. "A distracted soldier can be a detriment to himself and those around them. You have to know your family is taken care of ... then we can soldier on."
The training session attended by about 50 people on Saturday at the armory on Kansas Avenue was designed to offer information and a foundation for the 184th's family network of support. While the organization is made up mostly of volunteers, the course was taught by paid staff members.
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Everything changed with 9-11
Bonnie Bogges of Madera told the wives she was familiar with their situation. Her husband has just retired from the Guard. She had been a volunteer for nine years before that.
She talked how 9-11 changed everything. Before, the Guard was more about floods and fires and domestic crisis. Now the Guard could be called up anytime do anything.
Bogges stressed that "information is king." She recalled how her husband's unit was training when the attacks on 9-11 occurred. Some soldiers called home and told loved ones they were being deployed after the training and wouldn't be home. She said those uninformed calls had her phone ringing constantly.
Once she got the definitive word that the soldiers were coming home for at least three days, the calls from family members ceased and everyone's anxiety level dropped.
She urged family members not to listen to, or spread rumors. Lt. Col. Dirk Levy, of Ceres, added his own weight to the admonition: "If it doesn't come from the lead sled dog" don't pay attention.
In all of the preparations, Bogges urged people "Don't forget the children."
She said she learned that the hard way.
"When my husband was deployed," she said, "it was my 4-year-old grandson who had issues."
The 184th's Command Sgt. Major Michael Almasy drove more than seven hours from his home in Seal Beach. His wife, Amalia, has been tapped by Levy to run the 184th family group. Their two children, Amelia, 13, and Ashlynn, 9, helped care for younger children in Levy's office.
Amelia said she would miss Dad "being there and hanging around with us, watching TV" on the Discovery Channel.
Ashlynn said she had a soldier bear that helped when Daddy was gone. The bear wears fatigues and has dogtags. Ashlynn recited from memory the warrior's creed that was etched on the dogtags:
"I will never quit.
"I will never leave a fallen comrade behind.
"Always put the mission first.
"I will never accept defeat."
Almasy's pride in his daughter showed in a broad grin and a moistened eye.
"I'll miss my family, yes," Almasy said. "But when I joined 22 years ago, it was to serve my country."
He is headed for Kosovo if a troubled back doesn't ground him.
Bee staff writer Roger W. Hoskins may be reached at email@example.com or 578-2311.