Families say goodbye to 150 Iowa National Guardsmen
Nearly 150 Iowa National Guardsmen said goodbye to their friends and families, waving through the windows of the coach buses the soldiers rode through Harlan and Hazel Rogers Sports Complex on Sunday afternoon.
Families and loved ones lined up in the sports complex parking lot, holding up signs and waving the American flag as the buses filled with soldiers of Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 194th Field Artillery, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, Iowa National Guard made their send-off.
Prior to the sendoff at Harlan Rogers, the unit held a ceremony at the Readiness Center of the Fort Dodge National Guard Armory.
The National Guardsmen will be traveling to Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for several weeks of training before deploying to the U.S. Central Command area of operations in the Middle East. The deployment is expected to last about a year.
Col. Derek Adams, commander of the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, noted the unit’s send-off ceremony was “a bit unusual,” as it was being held virtually. While the soldiers sat in chairs seated six feet apart inside the Readiness Center, their families and loved ones watched the ceremony on their smartphones, tablets and computers.
“This unit has deployed several times over the last 20 years or so, the last to Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011,” Adams said. “Every other time, the sendoff ceremony was a time for family, friends and community leaders to witness in person the ceremonial departure of this fine unit. This time is a bit different, but it’s no less important.”
The unit had to restrict the attendance to the ceremony due to concerns over COVID-19.
Over the past several weeks and months, the soldiers of Headquarters and Headquarters Battery have focused on training up for this mission. The training will continue as they arrive at Fort Bliss today.
“You will continue to hone your skills in shooting, moving, communicating and sustaining,” Adams said. “You will strengthen bonds with your brothers and sisters. You will deepen your trust in each other. You will continue to gel as a unit. Make no mistake, what you have been doing and what you’re about to do are vitally important.”
In total, about 330 soldiers from 1st Battalion, 194th Field Artillery, are deploying in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in the U.S. Central Command area of operations. Other soldiers left from armories in Spencer, Estherville, Charles City and Johnston.
“The Army National Guard never takes a day off,” Adams said. “We’re always there, we’re always where we need to be, when we need to be there, doing the things our peers know need to be done for the safety of our nation.”
Adams commended the soldiers for their selfless service to their country as volunteers.
“You’re serving your country, doing the critical things that our nation needs people with your training and expertise to do,” he said.
For the vast majority of the Headquarters and Headquarters Battery soldiers, this will be their first active duty deployment.
“It’s truly an opportunity of a lifetime,” said Capt. Ben Kuennen, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Battery. “In the next year, many of you will see and experience things you never have before.”
The captain urged his soldiers to take time during this deployment for self-reflection.
“In time, many of you will realize the little things that we take for granted every day, like sleeping in your own bed, a truly warm shower, or even playing with your child,” he said. “Like most things, you don’t truly appreciate something until it’s gone.”
Adams told the soldiers to use their time during deployment — when not supporting the unit’s mission — to expand their horizons.
“Deployments can be a time of great personal and professional growth,” he said. “I encourage you all to take advantage of it.”