Spc. Cade Simon is a soft-spoken and well-mannered 23-year-old man from Caledonia. As often as not, you can find Simon with a fishing line dangling in one of the fishing holes littering Lowndes County.
Angling with his father, Nick, is what he likes to do best. But for the next year, his chances of getting away with a pole and a tackle box will be few and far between.
Sgt. Chris Pumphrey, also 23, is confident and proud. (He looks like a picture pulled straight from an Army recruitment poster.)
He proudly proclaims his family”s long military history, which stretches all the way back to his great-great-great-grandfather. He works at Severstal and lives with his wife, Stormi, in Steens.
Simon and Pumphrey, along with the rest of the U.S. Army National Guard soldiers of the Alpha Battery 2-114 Strike Battalion are heading for the war in Iraq, and the public is invited to show their support and see them off Friday, at 10 a.m. at the National Guard Armory in Columbus, located at 111 Fabritek Drive, off Highway 69.
When they talk about their impending tour of duty, Simon and Pumphrey do so with confidence. Both approach it with a realistic resolve and a desire to do the job for which they signed up three and five years ago respectively.
“I”ll miss everybody here. I”ll definitely miss fishing; I can”t do that for the year I”m over there,” said Simon. “But I”m anxious to get over there, get the job done and get back. My parents don”t really want me to go, but it”s a commitment I made.”
“It”s something I”ve always wanted to do since I was really young,” Pumphrey said.
Pumphrey went with the 114th to Iraq when the battalion was called to duty in 2005. He was only 17 years old.
“I went last time straight out of high school,” he said. “I know what to expect this time and it”s easier for me.”
Simon”s mother, Tammy, has a difficult time talking about her son leaving for war.
“I wasn”t real happy about it, but that”s what he chose to do, and I”ll support him in whatever he decides to do,” she said, fighting back tears. “I”m real anxious, but I want him to know I love him, and I support him in every way I can. I just worry about his safety, and I think my life is going to be on hold until he gets back.”
Chris and Stormi Pumphrey were dating when Chris first went to war. At the time, Stormi was still in high school.
“It”s much easier this time,” she said. “I know what to expect. The first time, there was a lot I didn”t know and it was a shock. This time much better.”
Simon”s father, Nick, also seemed to be fighting emotions over the situation. But he has put his trust in the training his son has received, to bring him home safely.
“I”m dealing with it,” he said. “I respect him for what he”s trying to do. He knew this was going on when he signed up and he knew there was a possibility he would have to go. I just try not to think about it. It”s part of what you”ve got to do.
I deal with it a lot differently than (Tammy) does. I know he”s trained well, and I know he can take care of himself, so I don”t really worry about that part of it. It”s just the not having him here that”s going to be hard.”
Cade Simon has spent a lot of time talking to his parents about his deployment and reassuring them he will return home safely.
Confident in training
“I know I”m trained well enough to take care of myself. I”m not concerned with my own safety. I will be fine. I know I will be fine,” he said. “That”s all you can tell them is you”ll be fine, and you”ll be back to see them.”
Pumphrey also is confident about this tour.
“It”s going to be different. I was kicking down doors and other stuff last time. This time I think it is going to be much more laid back. Of course, there”s always the possibility of (improvised explosive devices), that”s the biggest threat, but this time we won”t be kicking in doors and all that good stuff. It won”t be as tedious.”
“It”s really an honorable thing,” said Stormi Pumphrey. “I”m very proud of him.”
Both the families are getting support through the battalion”s Family Readiness Group, which helps military families cope with the stress of having loved ones overseas.
“We”re probably some of the most active in the group,” said Nick Simon.
The organization has been coordinating the troops” Friday send-off.
“It”s really informal, but it would be nice for the guys to see some community support,” said battalion leader Capt. Dennis Bittle. “We”ll definitely have friends and family there, but I thought it would be nice to see some faces from the community.”
The battalion initially will head to Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg for between 30 and 40 days of additional training. From there the group will fly to northern Iraq, where they will be involved in sustainment operations, which include security and convoy operations. The group will be overseas for about a year.
This is the second tour the 114th has had in Iraq since the war began in 2003. The group spent the whole of 2005 in country, and Bittle believes this trip will be better in several ways compared to the last tour of duty the battalion served.
“I feel we”re much more prepared this time,” he said. “Communication is so much better now. We”re able to get a better picture of operating procedure. We weren”t in the dark necessarily in 2005, but we didn”t have as clear a picture as we do now of what”s going on. There”s a rhythm and a pattern that has developed, and that will help a lot.”
The Army National Guard Alpha Battery 2-114 Strike Battalion serves under the Army National Guard 114th Battalion headquartered in Starkville. The battalion falls under the command of the 155th Combat Brigade Team headquartered in Tupelo. The group hails from almost all of North Mississippi.
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