Grandparents, children, wives and husbands smiled for photos and embraced the time they had left with 565 Kentucky National Guard soldiers Friday outside the Frankfort Convention Center.
Soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 138th Field Artillery will spend nine months in the Horn of Africa, a region on the northeast side of the continent. They will assist with military training, civilian training, promote regional security and prevent conflict.
Friends, family members and soldiers gathered to say goodbye during Friday’s ceremony at the Convention Center.
Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes addressed the crowd and told the soldiers how proud she was of them.
“I can’t express how grateful I am,” she said. “I’m here tonight because I care. I care about each and every one of you.”
Adj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini also spoke to the soldiers about helping when they’re called to duty.
“It’s the right thing to do,” he said. “It will always be the right thing to help those that need it.”
Sgt. Alexa Becerra, one of 17 soldiers from Frankfort who is being deployed, had her mom and aunt at the ceremony with her.
Becerra said she is sad to leave family members behind, but she’s staying positive.
“I am very excited because we’re one of the first units in the state of Kentucky to deploy to Africa, so it’s going to be a new experience,” Becerra said.
She will serve as a public affairs officer in Africa.
Becerra’s mom, Rita Turner, said it will be a tough nine months without her daughter.
“It’s hard to keep from crying,” Turner said. “I know it will be fast for her, but it will be sad for the rest of us.”
The group – also known as Task Force LongRifles – is leaving Tuesday morning for mobilization camp in Indiana. They head to Africa in October.
Spc. Eric Gibson, of Frankfort, said he is excited for his first deployment.
“I’m having a blast,” he said. “I’m ecstatic to say the least.”
Gibson didn’t have any family members at the ceremony.
“But this is my family here,” he said, pointing to the other soldiers. “Everybody in arms is my family.”
Gibson serves as a health care specialist and will continue that job in Africa.
“My job is to maintain the health and welfare of each soldier and make sure they’re battlefield ready,” he said.
Roman Cail, of Cadiz, is also going on his first deployment.
He said he’s excited, but leaving a fiancée and daughter behind makes it tough to leave.
“I’m tired of counting the days down,” he said. “I’m ready to start counting the days to get home.”