(Host) Hundreds of people gathered in Essex Junction this morning to say farewell to about 200 members of the Vermont Guard.
The soldiers are among the approximately 1500 guard members who are destined for Afghanistan in the coming months.
As VPR’s Steve Zind reports Friday’s ceremony was attended by the nation’s highest military officer.
(Dubie) "Good morning mountain warriors! "(soldiers respond)
(Zind) Vermont Adjutant General Michael Dubie has greeted soldiers bound for training this way many times in recent months.
The stories about these send offs may seem to blend into one another, but each event is very personal for the soldiers and their families.
Jeanette Boos says the long wait for her husband’s deployment has sometimes seemed too long, but it’s given her the opportunity to prepare herself for taking care of their Wilmington house and their three kids, who are all under 8.
(Jeanette Boos) "I try and get the house all ready. We’re ready for winter. Try and keep organized. Try and keep a positive outlook (laughs)."
(Zind) Jeanette’s husband Staff Sergeant Jonathan Boos feels ready, too.
(Jonathan Boos) "We’ve got good training for it. They’re keeping us well informed and I think its going to be a good year of deployment."
(Zind) This ceremony was different from the others in one significant way: it was attended by Admiral Michael Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Mullen spent time talking with soldiers and their families. It’s his first visit to a guard send-off ceremony. Mullen told the crowd that he came in part to thank the families of the soldiers.
(Mullen) "And to let you know that as the senior military leader in the country I and my wife Deborah are dedicated to supporting you in everything that you’re doing."
(Zind) Mullen acknowledged that since the deployment was first announced, the guard’s mission has changed as part of the Obama adminstration’s new strategy which includes increasing troop numbers.
A mission once described as ‘training and mentoring’ is now combat oriented. Mullen says the Vermont guard will be part of a turnaround in the situation in Afghanistan where the insurgency has been strengthening.
(Mullen) "The deployment of this unit is a critical part of the change which needs to occur and I’m confident it will literally while they’re there over the course of the next year."
(Zind) This succession of send-off ceremonies is near an end. One more is scheduled for Sunday. After that, the next time these soldiers climb aboard a plane – it will take them to Afghanistan.
For VPR News, I’m Steve Zind.
Photos below taken at a series Vermont National Guard deployment ceremonies in December,2009 and January, 2010. Credit: Sergeant Elizabeth Strauss, Vermont National Guard Public Affairs Office.