As the nation and Effingham County paid tribute to the millions of veterans who served the country across the globe Tuesday, Brig. Gen. Lawrence Dudney reminded those at Veterans Park in Springfield to keep a group in uniform in mind.
Dudney, commander of the Georgia Army National Guard’s 78th Troop Command, asked that the Veterans Day program participants think about the soldiers from the 48th Brigade — including A Battery of the 118th Field Artillery Battalion headquartered in Springfield — who will be heading to Afghanistan next year.
“I just ask that you keep them and their friends and family in your thoughts and prayers,” he said.
As commander of the 78th, Dudney has seen several of his units deployed overseas. He’s a veteran of the 48th Brigade’s rotation in Iraq, serving as commander of the 118th Field Artillery Battalion. He knows what the families left behind will go through in the months during the 48th’s tour of duty in Afghanistan.
“There’s always that fear of the phone call or the knock on the door,” he said. “That places a lot of strain on the family.”
When soldiers return from a year or more of a combat deployment, they can find that the family they left behind has changed — usually, they’ve become more independent and that adjustment takes some time between the soldier and the family.
“When people come back from a deployment, some changes have taken place,” Dudney said.
Dudney, who began his service in the Georgia Army National Guard as an enlisted man at the Springfield armory, paid tribute to the men who helped shape his career — many of whom were in attendance on a crisp autumn morning — and those who have served before and since.
“They’ve allowed me to do what I’m doing today,” he said. “The men and women who have served this state and this nation so proudly and that are laid to rest in places all over the world have taught us a lesson. It is a lesson of commitment and values.
“Each one was a human being with secrets, talents and passions. All of them had human failings, human strengths, human weaknesses and passions. Above all, we need to remember their selfless service to this state and to this nation.”
To Dudney, Veterans Day should be to “try to reward or recognize those who have made the sacrifice and some cases, the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the state and the nation,” he said, “and the sacrifices of the loved ones when their soldiers go into harm’s way.”
Dudney knows what it’s like — in addition to his combat tour in Iraq, he was at The Pentagon working for the National Guard Bureau on 9/11.
“Sept. 11 is a day we can never forget,” he said. “It is a day that has challenged us like we have never been challenged before. … As long as there are tyrants, there must be protection from tyranny.”
The 78th Troop Command is an amalgamation of units, ranging from intelligence to medical to military police units scattered across the state. From his headquarters in Decatur, Dudney has overseen the deployment of soldiers under his command to Middle East hotspots.
“We still have a lot of deployments,” he said. “I’ve got an engineer company in Iraq, an MP company in Iraq. I’ve got another MP company training to get ready to go.”
But even with the pace of deployments of National Guard units, the ranks of the Guard aren’t diminishing, Dudney said. There are more than 11,000 Georgians serving in the Guard.
“The National Guard is in a growth industry. You wouldn’t think that with all the deployments,” he said. “Recruiting is still going great, and it’s not just because of the college benefits.”
Dudney said the Guard’s enlistment goals are being met because Georgians want to serve.
“I firmly believe that,” he said. “They know what they’re getting into.”
Dudney, an Effingham native whose parents still live in Effingham, was at Veterans Park for the first time and came away impressed.
“This place is beautiful,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s first class. It does our veterans proud.”
“Effingham County is just a special place. The people here are generous, friendly and the warmest people you’d ever want to meet,” he said.