The Prince William County area felt the anguish of a distant war in Iraq and the battle against terrorism in Afghanistan in 2004 as some of its own were killed and many more were sent to fight.
Six men with ties to Prince William came home from Iraq to be buried by devastated and grief-stricken families.
Army Capt. Humayun S.M. Khan, 23, of Bristow was the first, having died June 8.
In November, there were three others. Marine Lance Cpl. Brian Medina, 20, of Dale City and Marine Sgt. Morgan W. Strader, 23, of Indiana whose mother lives in Montclair. Both were killed in action Nov. 12.
On Nov. 20, another Dale City native, Army Sgt. Jack Bryant Jr. 23, was killed.
During the suicide bombing of a dining tent near Mosul, Iraq, on Dec. 21, two others were lost. They were Virginia National Guard Spc. David Ruhren, 20, a 2002 Gar-Field High School graduate who lived in Stafford County, and Army Sgt. Maj. Robert D. O’Dell, 38, of Manassas.
The war had come home.
Marines from the Quantico Marine Corps base as well as other men and women from other branches of the service have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in various capacities after Sept. 11, 2001. They went in small groups or as part of larger units that were stationed elsewhere.
These were in large part invisible deployments, leaving and returning without much fanfare. Their families and friends knew, worried and prayed, but not the community as a whole.
That too changed this year when 125 soldiers from the Manassas-based Virginia National Guard unit were called up for two years of active-duty service in late February.
The entire 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry, including Company A from Manassas as well as units from Woodstock, Warrenton and Leesburg, were ordered up. They mustered at their armories for one last time.
The send-off in Manassas was a sad one. Wives fought back tears, mothers tightly hugged their sons and small children were dressed in their patriotic finest often unaware of the meaning of all the commotion.
Bus after bus pulled into the armory parking lot near the Prince William Fairgrounds outside Manassas that cold February morning. The soldiers loaded their packs and said one more farewell to families who tried desperately to be brave.
The departure of these men was unlike that of the other military men and women who had left before. These were citizen soldiers, ones with careers and lives outside of the military. They and their families were being asked to put their lives on hold and often to endure financial and emotional hardship to do so.
The guard trained for a few months in North Carolina before heading overseas to Afghanistan in June. The battalion played a role in Afghanistan’s first-ever free elections this fall. They provided security to the Afghan people who came out to vote.
They completed that mission and others but not without loss. Two Virginia National Guardsmen have been killed in Afghanistan since the battalion arrived in the country.
While neither of them was from the Manassas unit, the local families knew far too well that they could have been.
The battalion is supposed to complete its tour in Afghanistan this summer.
— Aileen Streng