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Fort Totten medics depart for Iraq with ceremony

The medics from the 344th Combat Support Hospital of the 8th Medical Brigade, stationed at the Bayside fort, are being sent to an undetermined location in Iraq May 1 for a yearlong assignment, where they will join about 250 other soldiers from the same unit."Grant them courage, grant them confidence in their mission," said Chaplain Peter Pilsner. "Grant them the spirit of caring for the sick and wounded.""We owe you a great debt of gratitude," said Col. Stanley Flemming, commander of the 8th Medical Brigade. "You are doing what you were trained to do, to go out and take care of soldiers."A few soldiers said they were looking forward to their duty."We're really excited. We're going to go and do our jobs and come back," said Sgt. Deborah Hunter of Brooklyn.Others admitted they were unsure of what to expect."We don't know anything yet of where we're going," said Staff Sgt. Karen Hinckson of Long Island. "I guess there will be lots of sand."The commanding officer hailed the soldiers' patriotism, courage and loyalty to serving their country. "No words really capture how grateful we are as a nation," Flemming said. "Be safe, and come home safe."At the end of the deployment ceremony, Lt. Charles Fiske handed out red, white and blue flags made of safety pins to each soldier.The friends and family of the soldiers alternated between worry and pride as they watched their loved ones."I'm feeling up, spirited," said Miriam Felix of Rosedale, looking at her nursing school buddy, Major Deborah Kelly of the Bronx. "You gotta give out positive energy."Col. Patricia Affe, who helped train some of the troops before they were called to supplement another unit, said she had wanted her soldiers to stay together, but she knew they had a higher duty. "it hurts because we've trained as a unit and I wanted to see us as a unit," she said. "Godspeed to our soldiers. God bless them."Dorothy Esposito's eyes were sad as she gazed at her brother, Lt. Charles Fiske of the Bronx, as he saluted his troops."We worry about him, but we're very proud," she said. Fiske has been deployed before, serving in the Fallujah region of Iraq last year.His daughter, 14-year-old Nina Fiske, said she is waiting for her father to come back and fulfill a vow he made to her."I made him promise to be back for my Sweet Sixteen next December," she said.Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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