Pamela and Keith Bentley Sr. are no strangers to military life.
She is a recruiter for the National Guard. He deployed to the Persian Gulf for Operation Desert Storm.
Wednesday, they lined up with hundreds of others along First Street in downtown Macon to bid farewell to members of the Georgia National Guard’s 48th Brigade. And they weren’t just saying goodbye to fellow warriors. This was more personal. Among the guardsmen marching past Rosa Parks Square was Spc. Danielle Bentley, their 21-year-old daughter.
Pamela, who brought a video camera to record the event, met her daughter’s departure with mixed feelings. She is worried, she said, but she’s also proud.
“The military has been good to us,” she said. “We don’t have a problem with giving back.”
Danielle volunteered for Guard service to help firm up her financial footing, Pamela said, so that she could better provide for her 2-year-old daughter, Daija. Her two younger brothers plan to join the military as well.
Keith, who worked as a communications specialist in the Army, and Pamela said Danielle’s deployment is different from those they’ve known in the past. This time, they said, there’s been more preparation and training for the mountainous environment in which the brigade will serve.
“I’m worried a little bit,” Keith said. “But I’m proud of her. I think she’ll be all right.”
The Bentleys, from Thomasville, were not the only family members to send off loved ones Wednesday. Thelma Watts and two of her daughters were there as well. They came to say goodbye to Watts’ youngest daughter, Sgt. Lisa Evans. Evans already has been to Iraq, Watts said, and her new mission has taken some getting used to.
“I had a hard time at first, because she’s my baby,” Watts said. “It was so violent, and so much was going on in Iraq. ... (But) I’m settled with it because I know God will take care of her.”
Prayers and well wishes came from more than friends and family. Plenty of people with no particular connection to the 48th turned out to show their support. They carried signs that read things such as “Bibb County supports our troops,” and they waved American flags as Guard members stood at attention in front of them.
Larry Ennis, an eighth-grade history teacher at Rutland Middle School, said he had encouraged many of his students to attend the parade to witness the departure of “modern-day minute men,” ordinary folks who have been called up from their jobs to protect the country, just as they were more than 200 years ago.
“This is history in action,” Ennis said. “We can’t do enough to support these folks.”
Mary Roquemore, a Macon woman, seemed a little perplexed when asked what brought her out to the parade. To her, the answer seemed obvious, and she gestured to the assembling Guardsmen.
“They’re like family,” she said. “We’re all American, so we’re all family.”
Members of the Patriot Guard Riders stood with large American flags along the steps and portico of City Hall. The organization of motorcycle enthusiasts and veterans initially formed a few years ago to help escort funeral processions for military members killed in action and to shield their families from anti-war protests.
One member, Poppa Joe Black, said events like Wednesday’s parade offer Riders a chance to mingle with military men and women just before they depart. It’s important, he said, to let them know how much their service is appreciated.
“I dang sure didn’t get ‘sent off’ when I went to Vietnam,” he said, “and it still hurts.”
To contact writer Matt Barnwell, call 744-4251.