A deployment ceremony was held on Sunday, April 10, at the Sheltair Hangar at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport for members of the Florida Army National Guard's 1st Battalion 124th Infantry Regiment as they prepare to deploy for the Horn of Africa. (Maria Lorenzino)
After a farewell ceremony filled with tears and whispered prayers, about 600 members of the Florida National Guard flew out of Fort Lauderdale on Sunday bound for a year-long military mission that will take them to the Horn of Africa, a part of the continuing U.S. war on terrorism.
"This is the second time around for me, so I feel a little more prepared," said Staff Sgt. Edward Roseman, 32, of Coconut Creek, who deployed to Iraq and Kuwait with the 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment in 2010.
The hangar at Sheltair Aviation, at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, was jammed with thousands of relatives and friends there to see the fatigue-clad soldiers off, including a pregnant Kelly Roseman and the couple's two children, Logan, 3, and Presley, 1.
"This is the big difference for me," said Roseman, a Florida Highway Patrol trooper in civilian life. "I didn't have this family the last time."
This time, Roseman and the 1st Battalion will head to Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, north of Somalia, where the unit will replace the Orlando-based 2nd Battalion of the 124th Infantry in protecting the headquarters of the Combined Joint Task Force.
In addressing the assembled troops, Maj. Gen. Michael A. Calhoun, Florida's Adjutant General, said the mission marked the third major deployment for the South Florida-based 1st Battalion, nicknamed the "Hurricanes," since the terror attack of 9-11.
"This brigade has the largest global footprint of any other National Guard infantry brigade in the country, with assets deployed throughout Central America, in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador," said Calhoun, "... and now a critical back-to-back rotation on the African continent."
The 124th Infantry dodged sniper fire and roadside bombs in the streets of Ramadi, Iraq, in 2003 and escorted truck convoys between Kuwait and Iraq in 2010. Its Horn of Africa assignment is also considered a combat mission, although the risks are different, said Lt. Col. Julio Acosta, battalion commander.
Joe Fitzpatrick, a retired Broward Sheriff's Office deputy on hand to see off his 25-year-old son, Spc. Joe Fitzpatrick Jr., was well aware of the dangers. "In this day and age of terrorism, military bases are always a target," said Fitzpatrick, who lives in Pompano Beach.
Jen Murphy, 24, a first-grade teacher and the younger Fitzpatrick's girlfriend, said, "Of course I'm going to miss him. But I'm very proud of him. I just say, 'Keep the faith.'"
Also getting a final hug from his family was Pfc. Charles Green, 20, of Wellington, a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps graduate of Seminole Ridge High School who has wanted to serve in the military since he was four.
"He is excited because this is what he always wanted to do," said Laura Green of her son. "Now he has a job to do. He'll do it safely and then get back to home to us."
Also departing was Spc. Leo Willis, 29, who works at the airport and lives in Hallandale Beach.
"He's OK with going, I'm not," said a smiling Chrystal Willis, who had her hands full with the couple's three children, ages 7, 4 and 2 weeks. "He's the one who takes care of everything, so we are going to miss him. Fortunately, his mom and my mom are nearby."
The battalion will spent several weeks training at Fort Bliss, Texas, before heading to East Africa in what is now known as Operation Freedom's Sentinel, the successor to Operation Enduring Freedom.