Pennsylvania National Guard Deploys To The Middle East
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Five-hundred Pennsylvania National Guard soldiers are deploying to the Middle East for the next year. Their mission is to support U.S. Central Command by coordinating troops and working with partner countries across the region. From member station WITF in Harrisburg, Rachel McDevitt reports families of the soldiers put on a brave face at a farewell ceremony this weekend.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Daddy.
RACHEL MCDEVITT, BYLINE: Children, spouses and parents ran across the auditorium to embrace and take pictures with their soldiers after a send-off from Pennsylvania's governor and National Guard generals. It's the 28th Infantry Division headquarters' first mobilization since the Korean conflict. Though, many individual soldiers have deployed with other units within the 28th infantry.
Sgt. Dave Zadzura was surrounded by family and friends after the ceremony.
DAVE ZADZURA: I'm prepared for the mission, not prepared to say goodbye. That's the hardest part.
MCDEVITT: Zadzura deployed once before to Bosnia in 2003, but that was before he started his family. His kids are 9 and 10 years old now.
ZADZURA: The first time I went, I was single, so it was kind of easy. You just picked up and went. My parents, I had to say goodbye to and stuff. But this time, it's a little more difficult.
MCDEVITT: Division leaders say those who join the National Guard shouldn't exactly expect they'll be deployed. But they say the old dynamic of Guard members as weekend warriors is changing. The National Guard now makes up nearly 40 percent of the U.S. army's operational force. The command mission the 28th is taking over, historically, would have gone to a traditional active duty unit, but now Guard units have the same capabilities, and they can get called up more often.
Twenty-five-year-old 2nd Lt. Stephen Brynok joined the Guard two years ago.
STEPHEN BRYNOK: I think, as a military member, it is something that you sign up for and that you're always willing to do.
MCDEVITT: Brynok's family appeared somber. His father, also named Stephen, says he hoped his son wouldn't have to go overseas.
STEPHEN: It's kind of tough watching your first son be deployed for the first time. But, you know, we're all in this together. And we'll stick together. And we'll all get through it pretty well.
MCDEVITT: But Brynok's mom, Lisa, says she's concerned with what she called mother's worries, like - where he'll be, what he's doing over the next year.
LISA: I love him so much. I know he'll do his job the best as he can. He's very disciplined in what he does. So I'm proud of him, too.
MCDEVITT: A tear escaped her eyes, and she wiped it away. Brynok's wife, Megan, held back her emotions. They were just married last summer. She says it feels weird this day is finally here, and she's not sure when the full weight of her husband leaving will hit her. She plans to keep her mind occupied.
MEGAN: Just keeping myself busy - I work full-time - and just trying to get involved in hobbies.
MCDEVITT: She'll also be planning their honeymoon someplace far away from the Middle East.
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MCDEVITT: For NPR News, I'm Rachel McDevitt in Harrisburg.
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