BEDFORD, Va. – Hugging their families one last time, hundreds of Virginia National Guard soldiers were sent off Saturday to the Horn of Africa.
Gathering at the National D-Day Memorial, more than 800 soldiers stood tall as they received a blessing for their deployment.
About 200 soldiers from Kentucky will join the Virginia National Guard in a team called Task Force Red Dragon.
They will endure the heat in the Horn of Africa on a security mission for potentially a year to protect U.S. citizens.
Governor Ralph Northam wished the soldiers well as this is one of the guard’s largest deployments since World War II.
“To deploy from your family and your place of employment is a lot to ask,” Governor Northam said. “And so as I told them today the first thing is to take care of each other.”
Staff Sgt. Stephanie Ashwell from Roanoke said her grandfather’s name is on the memorial and she plans to continue his legacy in her first deployment.
“I get to be that voice for him even if he doesn’t have a voice anymore,” she said. “He’s my person that keeps me motivated.”
Specialist Jonathan Hannums will also be packing up his belongings for the first time as he struggles to say goodbye to his parents and new wife of two months.
“It sucks to leave but my dad was deployed before so he understands it,” he said. “So he is kind of keeping everyone together.”
As a veteran, Peter Hannums knows how stressful a mission can be and is encouraging the family to remain calm.
“You don’t want to bring any issues you have at home to him because he’s got a job to do,” Peter said.
The task force commander, Lt. Col. James Tierney, will miss a few milestones but was thrilled to put up the Christmas tree early and celebrate the holiday with his family.
“It’s always difficult to leave your family,” he said. “I will be missing several key events in my family’s life, but since this is my fourth deployment it’s gotten a little bit easier in terms of communication.”
Pictures will hang on the walls and scheduled video chats are already in the works.