Many Macon athletes have crossed the well-manicured Hugh Dunn field as local heroes, but on Saturday, 120 real-life heroes stood in formation on that gridiron awaiting official orders for their deployment to Afghanistan.
Members of the Macon-based 1438th Engineer Company stood proudly before the capacity crowd that filled the stadium at Macon High School to bid farewell to family, friends and well wishers.
The unit, led by 1438th Commander Captain McClellan H. Gaono-Taiese and First Sergeant Richard J. Burns marched on the field to the music of the 135th Army Band and a standing ovation from the crowd.
Macon Mayor Dale Bagley was one of the speakers addressing the soldiers.
"Our community will support you in any way we can," said Bagley. "And we pray for your safe return."
6th District State Representative Tim Remole told the company.
"We honor you today for your strength and courage," he said. "We as a community will pray for you."
Letters of encouragement and support were read by staff members of Senator Claire McCaskill, Senator Roy Blunt and Congressman Sam Graves.
Lastly, Missouri's adjutant general Major General Steve Danner took the podium.
Danner, a 1971 graduate of Macon High School, told the crowd that it was fitting that the deployment ceremony be held on the field named for long time Macon Football Coach Hugh Dunn. Dunn is a decorated World War II veteran.
"The years I spent with Coach Dunn in football are as much of a learned lesson for life as I have ever had."
Danner spoke to the family members present and encouraged them to keep in touch with their soldiers and strive to keep the lines of communication open.
"When a soldier is deployed, you as family members are deployed too," he said.
He encouraged the younger soldiers who are leaving on their first deployment to look to the veteran members of the 1438th for guidance.
Danner also read a letter from Missouri Governor Jay Nixon.
At the end of the ceremony Danner approached Captain Gaono-Taiese and First Sgt. Burns to issue the official order of deployment.
The company will now travel to Fort Dix N.J. before heading to Afghanistan sometime this summer.
In Afghanistan, they will spend 10 months dismantling the numerous temporary, modular bridges built by the U.S. and British militaries throughout Operation Enduring Freedom.
The company is slated to return home to the United States in the spring of 2014.