TIFTON -- Family and friends huddled around each other Friday as members of Tifton's National Guard Unit loaded up and headed to Fort Stewart in Hinesville. Their journeys could end at points in the Middle East.

The unit, a detachment of the 48th Brigade, boarded Humvees and chartered buses bound for Fort Stewart, a popular mobilization spot for most of Georgia's guard units and home to the Army's famed 3rd Infantry Division.

"It's a case of bad timing," Lee Lindsey-Dunnum said. Dunnum, wife of Sgt. Donnie Dunnum, hugged and kissed her husband goodbye. She is 31 weeks into her pregnancy. She and her husband realize that the baby may be 2 years old before Daddy returns. They and others have been told to prepare for a 24-month deployment.

Dunnum's story is just one of many these local guardsman have to tell.

Capt. Tim Sutton, of Tifton, joined the ranks of his Guard brothers Friday in loading up and rolling out, but Sutton has a trait that separates him from the rest of his unit, his age.

At 57, this maintenance technician from Tift County High School is one of the most experienced in the group and is one of many who will be in leadership roles with the unit.

Sutton and his wife, Sheila, enjoyed a quiet goodbye moment before he joined Humvee convoy and heading towards the coast.

Young Tyler Clayton, a combat medic, was working toward a degree in nursing before being called up and mobilized. A sophomore at Abraham Baldwin College, Clayton decided to put his academic life on hold to fulfill his obligation to the Guard.

Clayton plans to return to complete his nursing degree before going into the medical field.

"Well, I was undeclared, but I've decided that the medical field is the way to go," Clayton said. "I'm a combat medic now and that seems to be working well."

According to Clayton's family, they've been told that the unit will camp at Fort Stewart before heading to Fort Irwin, Calif., for desert training. Members of the unit will spend 100 days training and preparing for combat before a possible deployment overseas.

Several local guardsmen have already been deployed to the Middle East in support of the ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.



To contact reporter/photographer JD Sumner, call 382-4321, ext. 214.

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