As members of the Nevada Army National Guard prepared to deploy, the room at the Las Vegas Readiness Center quickly filled up Tuesday with loved ones, including kids sporting camouflage and an 8-month-old with a white headband and frilly socks giving her mom a kiss.
Sgt. Jessica Done held baby Rylie before she and 26 other National Guardsmen deploy Wednesday morning on a 10-month mission in Afghanistan.
“I’ve done this before, and I’m excited to go for the Army,” she said with tears in her eyes. “It’s different now because I have her. At least she’s young enough to not remember that I’m gone.”
Done’s husband, Noble, also a Guardsman, will care for baby Rylie with the help of family until Mom returns in June.
Done took her place in line before saluting for the national anthem as part of the mobilization ceremony. Done, the only woman in the unit, is part of a mission to support Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Kandahar province.
The unit’s focus, Maj. Aaron Mach said, is to disarm explosive devices and support the Afghan army. Mach said his unit’s training has been ramped up over the past year to include live explosives, night operations and unmanned aerial systems.
“Never have I seen a group of individuals with such resolve and tenacity and accomplishment to their mission,” Mach told his unit in front of friends and family and guest U.S. Rep. Susie Lee.
It will be the first deployment for the explosive ordnance disposal unit of the 3665th Ordnance Company and the first combat deployment in three years for the Nevada National Guard, which will send four additional units this year for missions in Asia, Europe and Africa.
About one-third of those deploying Wednesday are from states outside Nevada.
“The journey has yet to begin,” Mach said. “We must never forget no matter how much it hurts, how dark it gets and no matter how far you fall … we are a family, not just a unit.”
Brig. Gen. William Burks, the adjutant general, told the unit that there was no finer host for his last mobilization ceremony before he retires next month.
“You guys are going to have your mettle tested overseas; there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “Make sure you have a battle buddy that you can rely on in times of need, because they will happen.”
Then he addressed the room full of families, including a 9-year-old Maltipoo named Addie, who will surely be cuddling up to Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Hopper’s blanket while he is away. Hopper’s wife, Lauren, plans to send care packages to make sure she’s a part of his life from afar.
“I salute you,” Burks told them. “Without the family members here today, the Guard could not exist. It’s not easy to say goodbye to your loved ones, but you can be rest assured, with their training, they’ll all be coming back.”