LYNCHBURG, Va. – Hundreds of soldiers in the Virginia National Guard are being recognized for their sacrifices and service during a nine-month deployment in Africa.
270 soldiers in Lynchburg joined hundreds of other soldiers in the Horn of Africa to carry out security missions. Their deployment lasted from Nov. 2021 to Sep. 2022.
On Saturday morning, there were several ceremonies across the Commonwealth to recognize the brave men and women who answered the call for the mission.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin attended the celebration in Lynchburg.
“When our country called, you answered,” Youngkin said. “You answered that call to defend our freedoms. You answered the call to serve the greater good. You answered the call to be part of something much bigger than yourself.”
While some of the soldiers have remained in touch, many of them returned to their normal lives prior to deployment. Colonel Jim Tierney says Saturday’s celebration was a chance to get everyone back together again.
“To see the soldiers back here to recognize the outstanding contributions,” Tierney said. “It’s hard to put your life on hold for nine months but our soldiers did that in support of the country and they continue to do that time and time again.”
Each of the soldiers were awarded the Virginia Governor National Service Medal. The medal is given to the men and women of the Virginia Army and Air National Guard called to active federal duty since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
“For me, I think I’ll always look at this medal as just a symbol of the sacrifices and the achievements those soldiers accomplished over the past year,” Tierney said. “Every single one of them in their own right did some outstanding things. When I get to where this medal, I’m very proud of that because it is a symbol and a reflection of what those soldiers did.”
Like many overseas missions, the soldiers had to leave behind their families. They created a different type of family on their mission.
Staff Sergeant Stephanie Ashwell says she would do anything for her brothers and sisters.
“We’d fight and argue like brothers and sisters but I would also give my life for them. At any point whenever they needed something, I’d give it, whatever — the shirt off my back, whatever they needed I’d give to them,” Ashwell said.