- The Washington Times - Monday, September 10, 2001

FORT DIX, N.J. — Sweethearts embraced and mothers became teary-eyed yesterday as family and friends gave the Maryland National Guard one last farewell before deployment to the Balkans for six months of peacekeeping.

Some of the 267 Guardsmen already have left for their destination — Camp Comanche, just north of Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The rest will be flying out from nearby McGuire Air Force Base throughout the month.

"I'm scared to death. I'm so worried something is going to happen to her," Tiffany Salinas, 21, said of her twin sister, Spc. Tabitha Salinas. "But I'm confident she's got a good head on her shoulders."

Moments later, Spc. Salinas propped her 6-year-old son, Tyler, on the trunk of a family car and gave him a long, tearful hug. She tightly gripped the goodbye balloons he gave her hours earlier.

Spc. Salinas, of Baltimore, is one of five Guard members who have agreed to share their stories with The Washington Times before, during and after their mission.

She and her fellow soldiers — Staff Sgt. Preston Curvey Jr., Chief Warrant Officer Roger Weaver, 1st Sgt. Raymond Arpin and Lt. Col. Ron Price — are excited to get to work and fulfill their mission. But all of them keenly feel the sting of leaving loved ones and disruption in their lives.

"There are a lot of soldiers who have never deployed before. It's hard on them," Sgt. Curvey said. "There's anxiety. Maybe a little bit of doubt, a little worry about the family. And on the family's part, I see a lot of anxiety."

The Maryland National Guard has been training for 18 months for the tour, during which troops will prevent crimes, ensure freedom of movement and aid in the United Nations' humanitarian mission.

The soldiers will join National Guardsmen from the other states in the 29th Division Virginia, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts. In all, about 3,200 Guard, Reserve and regular Army troops from 21 states will be stationed in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The separation is tough on those left behind, too.

Spc. Salinas, a single mother, said Tyler has begun acting out in school.

"I guess that's his way of reacting to me leaving," she said during a picnic lunch, where speakers blared military standards. "I'm all right. I miss him a lot I missed his first day of first grade."

She added that seeing her son for three hours yesterday was probably more painful than not seeing him at all.

While she's gone, Tiffany Salinas will move into her sister's home and care for Tyler and her own newborn, Dominick. Tiffany, a Guard member herself, could not serve on the mission because of the recent childbirth.

Sgt. Curvey, 45, who lives in the District's Capitol Hill neighborhood, leaves for Camp Comanche in the coming days and will be seen off by his parents. A veteran of the Persian Gulf war, he said he is more antsy than anything else.

"I guess right now I'm ready to go," the infantryman said. "It's time to put your training to practical use."

The only thing he said he has not yet mastered: his Bosnian language skills. They may prove vital, because he will interact with the locals regularly.

Warrant Officer Weaver, 57, has done this before — but that doesn't mean it's easy.

"Each time it's a big deal, it really is," said Becky, his wife of 23 years. "It really disrupts our lifestyle and routine. It happens at different stages in our marriage. We have a son out of college and a dog who is dying, so it's not a good time."

Warrant Officer Weaver, a Baltimore banker and Vietnam veteran, said, "I'd like to get it rolling. The helicopters are there, two-thirds of the pilots are there, and I'm back here."

Col. Price, 49, of Columbia, had no one to see him off. His two sons are in Colorado; Jason, 18, just started his freshman year at Colorado State University, and Tyler lives with his mother, Col. Price's ex-wife.

The boys, in fact, haven't seen their father for several weeks.

"The younger is taking it a little bit harder. He's a little more sensitive and having a tough time," the aviator said. "But he understands. He's 16 now."

Col. Price himself didn't have much time to think about much besides work in the final days before heading to Fort Dix. His bosses at the National Transportation Safety Board made him work until 8:30 the night before he left.

Sgt. Arpin, 53, did not want anyone to see him off.

"One goodbye is fine for me," he said, referring to the send-off his family gave him back at his Harford County home. "It's like ripping a scab off a fresh wound."

Sgt. Arpin, unlike many of his fellow soldiers, will have the comfort of family while on the mission. His only son, Raymond, 22, will be serving under Sgt. Arpin's command as an aviation mechanic.

"It's what I've wanted to do since I joined," the younger Arpin said. "I didn't think I'd get this chance. That's why I volunteered."


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