National Guard deployment ceremony offers support for families

Army National Guardsman George Taylor of Smyrna gives his niece Parker a hug after an Army National Guard Deployment ceremony at Delaware State University on Saturday.

DOVER — The kisses were plentiful, and those hugs were squeezed just a little bit tighter and longer, as nearly 300 soldiers from the Delaware Army National Guard’s 198th Expeditionary Signal Battalion met up with family members following a deployment ceremony at Delaware State University’s Alumni Stadium on Saturday morning.

It was an emotional day for the soldiers, who looked up from the steamy Alumni Stadium artificial field surface into grandstands full of their biggest supporters, many holding up signs that offered best wishes and support for their family members.

“It’s a beautiful thing seeing everybody’s family and friends come out here and support all of the soldiers who are getting ready to leave,” said Staff Sgt. William Matthews, a Smyrna resident. “Especially for a lot of the soldiers who are deploying for the first time and never had an experience like this.

“So, it’s just good to see the families come out here and get the recognition they deserve as well, for supporting us and our households when they’re missing half of their support system (while they are deployed).”

The Citizen Soldiers of the 198th Expeditionary Signal Battalion are scheduled to deploy later this month to Southwest Asia in support of United States Central Command. The Guardsmen are trained to provide command, control and supervision of the battlefield for combatant commanders while deployed.

Gov. John Carney, Brig. Gen. Michael Berry, Adjutant General of the Delaware National Guard, Sen. Tom Carper, Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester and other dignitaries attended the deployment on Saturday morning at Delaware State University, offering the soldiers their support for their upcoming mission.

An Army National Guard member waves to friends and family after an Army National Guard Deployment ceremony at Delaware State University on Saturday.

“What a tremendous showing of support and gratitude for the members of our Delaware National Guard family who are answering the call once again to serve our nation overseas,” Adjutant General Berry said. “This is the largest formation that we’ve deployed since the 198th deployed in 2013.

“The soldiers standing before us will joining their fellow service members who deployed in June, along with Bravo Company, from the South Carolina National Guard, and create of force of over 350 warriors.”

He added, “We are proud of all of you and are looking forward to watching you perform your communications mission, keeping our combat formation linked together and ultimately returning to us, understanding the value you have provided to our nation and our world.”

Adjutant General Berry noted the experience that many in the 198th Signal Battalion had accumulated, noting that 52 of them had at least one deployment, 23 had two deployments, nine had three previous deployments and one had already had four deployments.

“I know that they will face challenges, but I also know that they will be able to rely on the skills and experience that they have learned here in the 198th, and they will not only accomplish their mission, but bring credit to the organization, the state and the nation,” he said. “To the soldiers in the formation, we – all of us who are here this morning – made the vow that we will support your families as you support our nation.”

The soldiers were led onto the football field on Saturday by the Delaware State Police Pipes and Drums. The 287th Army Band played several patriotic tunes throughout the ceremony.

Army National Guardsmen march on Delaware State University’s football field

It all made Gov. Carney think of different experiences he had shared in the past at the site of the deployment ceremony.

“Normally when we gather on this field it’s for a graduation or for a football game,” Gov. Carney said. “It’s hard to reconcile the setting with this important event today. You probably don’t feel a lot like celebrating, but that’s what we’ve come here to do.

“We – your family and friends – and your whole community here in Delaware, we’re here to celebrate the year of work that you’ve put in and prepared for this day and we’re her to celebrate and honor the sacrifices you and your families have made along the way. And we’re here to celebrate the beginning of the journey that will bring you home again.”

The governor added, “Most of all, we’re here to celebrate you – the best among us. You are selfless and you are brave, and you set the standard for the rest of us as Americans and as Delawareans.”

The Delaware Army National Guard’s 198th Regiment, which was saluted on Saturday, has quite a history.

Its heritage dates from January 1776 when it was organized as Col. John Haslet’s Delaware Regiment of the Continental Army, thus earning the Regiment its titles as “The First Regiment of the First State.” Members of the regiment fought through every major battle of the Revolution and stood with Gen. George Washington as he accepted the surrender of the British at Yorktown.

“The 198th Signal Battalion boasts a long legacy of service to Delaware and our nation and these men and women are about to embark on a journey that will undoubtedly enhance the proud heritage of the unit as they serve beside their active duty brothers and sisters,” Adjutant General Berry said.

Gov. John Carney joins Army National Guard personnel during the signing of the national anthem Saturday.

Following the ceremony, Staff Sgt. Charles Pettit, a 2006 graduate of Lake Forest High School, held onto Remington, his 1-year-old son. Mr. Pettit was deployed in 2013-’14, but that was different.

“The first deployment I was single with no kids and all,” Staff Sgt. Pettit said. “This deployment I’m married with two kids, so this one’s going to be a little bit different.”

He noted that deployments can last up to 400 days, so he might miss a bunch of holidays, birthdays and other milestones in his families’ lives, but he said he has confidence in his fellow soldiers.

“These guys are the best of the best at what they do,” said Staff Sgt. Pettit. “Our last deployment we worked hard-in-hand with active duty and they didn’t even know we were National Guard because of well we do our jobs.”

Staff Sgt. Matthews said his love of service to his country makes his sacrifices all worth it.

“This will be my second deployment, but my first deployment with my two daughters and being married, so it’s a little bit of a tough time right now, leaving my family for so long,” he said. “But this is what I love to do. I love being in the military and I’ll serve my country every chance I get, and my family supports me with everything that I do.

“I’m active duty in the National Guard so I know they’ll have to get used to me leaving every now and again. We’ve been just trying to get our time as a family in before we pull out of here.”

Staff Sgt. Matthews is going to be deploying with his brother Staff Sgt. George Taylor, so that might make the time away go a little bit faster.

“It’s always nice to be going somewhere with somebody you love, that way you know you’ve already got somebody you can lean on,” Staff Sgt. Taylor said. “It’s beautiful to see all of these people come out to support us and it’s nice to hear people cheer to support the country and we’ll go out and do our best and do the same for them.”

Spectators salute during the singing of the national anthem.

Gov Carney had one important reminder for the soldiers before they deployed.

“Each one of you has a story of sacrifice,” he said. “Then, of course, there are all your families that are here gathered with us. While you’re away they will be the mom and the dad, the dad and the mom. They be the homework helper and members of the carpool. They’ll keep the ship afloat. They, too, are patriots and heroes.”

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