Friends, family members, dignitaries and community members turned out Friday morning to give a Great Bend-based Army National Guard Reserve detachment a patriotic send-off as they prepare for a year-long deployment to the Middle East.
American Legion Post 180 in Great Bend hosted the deployment ceremony for the 863rd Quartermaster Detachment, a unit based in Great Bend and comprised of 10 soldiers. According to Master of Ceremonies Maj. Jacob Wood, a former member of the 863rd Detachment, the unit will be deploying to Kuwait in support of Operation Spartan Shield, a multi-branch operation based in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
About the unit
The detachment’s commander, Lt. Col. Michael Zellous, said the unit is responsible for ordering and maintaining fuel supplies for overseas units. The 863rd will be responsible for managing millions of gallons of fuel at a time. In addition to ordering the fuel supplies, the unit is responsible for keeping the fuel clean and available for use once it arrives.
The unit will handle bulk fuel for all units in the field under United States Central Command in the Middle East. This includes units from all service branches of the U.S. military.
Zellous described the unit’s function as similar to a supplier such as Amazon.
“We’ll order (the fuel) from the states and bring it in the country and (the units) will come pick it up,” Zellous said. “You call and say you need some new supplies, and we’ll make sure you have all the supplies you need.”
The 56-year-old Zellous, who is originally from Georgia, said the 10-member detachment is comprised of soldiers from five different states, which also include Kansas, Minnesota, Tennessee and Oklahoma. Six of the soldiers are from the Sunflower State, including one from Great Bend.
He expressed pride in having the opportunity to be the unit’s commander. Having had the opportunity to select a unit to lead, he said he is glad to be a part of the 863rd.
“I’m excited every (time) I come and see these guys,” he said. “I’m excited to always learn more and more about them.”
Speaking on behalf of the City of Great Bend, City Administrator Kendal Francis, taking a humble and solemn tone, praised the sacrifices of the deploying service members and their families.
“I have no business being able to address these men,” Francis said. “(In comparison) I have no true understanding of sacrifice.”
In his remarks to the soldiers and the audience, Francis recognized the level of dedication and sacrifice necessary to be willing to leave families behind for long periods of time to serve the country overseas.
“I could never imagine being in (that) position,” Francis said. “But that’s the reality each of you live, and I thank you for that.”
He acknowledged he and many others often take for granted the daily sacrifices service members make in service to the nation, and expressed his gratitude for their willingness to serve.
“Thank you for your commitment to serve, thank you for your bravery, and especially for your sacrifice,” Francis said.
Col. David Albertson, Chief of Staff of 451st Expeditionary Sustainment Command, thanked the American Legion and the City of Great Bend for hosting the event.
He remarked at the level of dedication it takes to give so much time in service, knowing that even in the Reserve units there is a high likelihood of at some point being deployed overseas. He noted the challenges the soldiers would face being in a harsh, unfamiliar environment, often having no contact with families back home.
“To these soldiers that have stepped up and volunteered and are going over to protect our freedoms, it’s a great honor to be here and speak in front of you,” Albertson said.
He noted, though, the soldiers are not the only ones serving and sacrificing. He expressed gratitude to the service members’ families, who face equal challenges back home. Often National Guard members are deployed at a moment’s notice, and the families left back home often face a great deal of upheaval as a result.
“That’s a tough job, not knowing what’s going on,” Albertson said. “Your support, and your fortitude that supports them, is absolutely important because it allows them to the job they do.”
Lt. Col. Jeffrey Jones, Commander of 329th Combat Service Support Battalion, echoed those sentiments in his remarks.
“You’re losing your loved ones for nine months to a year, and that’s a big change, and when they come back and reintegrate, that’s a big change, too,” Jones said.
In sending off the soldiers, Albertson encouraged them to, “do your job, stay safe, come back the way you came, and lean on each other.”
Jones expressed pride in the unit, saying it takes a great deal of courage and dedication to be willing to serve. He encouraged the soldiers to reach out and to depend on each other during their time of service.
The music for the event was provided by Great Bend High School’s Jazz Band. As well as playing prior to the event, the band played the National Anthem and the U.S. Army’s branch song.
Army Chaplain Capt. Michael Leskowat offered the invocational prayer, as well as a benediction sending the soldiers off in safety, seeking protection for the service members and their families, after the conclusion of the dignitaries’ remarks.
Members of the Great Bend American Legion and Auxiliary, in addition to hosting the ceremony, also provided refreshments for the event.