MONROE -- A bittersweet Tuesday morning, filled with tearful goodbyes -- and excitement for the year to come.
Hundreds of men and women, part of the Monroe-based 528th Engineer Battalion of the National Guard. They'll be sent to Kuwait for a year-long deployment.
"It felt so good to get so much support from the community," said Tiffany Sanders, E4 specialist for the Louisiana National Guard.
Friends and family packed the Fant Ewing Coliseum at ULM for this ceremony on Tuesday, to send off these soldiers with hope and honor.
"We will have other units from across the United States that will accompany us as we arrive there, and we'll provide engineering support," said Capt. Troy Johnson, HAC Commander for the Louisiana National Guard.
Their primary mission is construction on roads and buildings wherever they are told to go -- all in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
"I tell them all the time, they're my favorite Americans, because they're willing to serve," said Maj. Gen. Glenn Curtis. "They're all volunteers and they go where we ask them to go, and do what we ask them to do."
A few familiar faces showed their support, including Willie and Si Robertson, Congressman Vance McAllister, Senator Mike Walsworth, and Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo.
For many -- Specialist Sanders -- it's a first deployment experience. She says it's tough to say goodbye to her daughter, Taylor-Marie.
"It is very bittersweet, but we're doing what we have to do for our families, family is very proud of me," Sanders said. "We're trying to stay strong for each other, we're going to keep in contact with family and friends, that will make the deployment much easier."
One couple, Jeremy and Ellis Robinson, is in the 528th Battalion together. They say the hardest thing is not being able to comfort their little girl while they're gone.
"I'm pretty confident at this point because we've been preparing her these past few months," said Ellis.
"I feel very confident her grandparents can handle it and take good care of her," said Jeremy.
"If you're a family member that has a soldier deploying, it's one of the toughest days of your life because of the uncertainty that they're going into," said Maj. Gen. Curtis. "If our communities would pitch in and take care of those families that have deployed soldiers, that's the one thing I would ask them to do."
Despite that uncertainty, these soldiers are already making plans for their return home.
"The first thing I'm doing when i get back is taking my daughter to Disney World," said Sanders.
The Robinsons say they also want to take their little one to Disney World or Myrtle Beach when they come back home.
"Probably be crawfish...Definitely," said Johnson.
Before they head overseas, the unit will train in Texas. Then they'll embark on the year-long deployment in Kuwait, located on the Arabian Peninsula.
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