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400 Illinois National Guard soldiers say goodbye at deployment ceremony

A mobilization ceremony was held for approximately 400 Soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry Regiment Jan. 21 at the Banterra Center, Carbondale, Illinois. (Illinois National Guard/Released)

Pam Maxey, of Texico, had tears streaming down her face as she embraced her son, Spec. Drake Hess, last Tuesday afternoon in Banterra Center at Southern Illinois University Carbondale during a mobilization ceremony for Illinois National Guard soldiers with the 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry Regiment, headquartered in Marion.

The soldiers are from companies in Marion, West Frankfort, Mount Vernon and Effingham and Litchfield.

“I’m really proud of him,” Maxey said.

The soldiers are being mobilized in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and will deploy to the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility in spring 2020 after they complete additional training at Fort Bliss in Texas.

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For families and friends, the ceremony marks the beginning of 10 long months of a loved one being absent from home.

Federico Fernandez, of Herrin, was supporting his son, Jacob Webb.

“He’s my middle boy,” the father of six said. Several of Fernandez’s other children and grandchildren also attended the event.

Webb said this is his second deployment.

Michelle Tate, of Mount Vernon, attended the ceremony to support Maxey and her family.

“We’ve good a pretty good support system in Mount Vernon,” Maxey said.

“The Family Readiness Group will be there to support them,” Tate said.

Tate had two sons who were deployed. One is now retired, the other is still active in Illinois National Guard.

Andrew Walker is part of a group of soldiers being mobilized. He leaves his wife, Alexandria, at home with daughters, Milee, 9; and Kendall, 5. They did a lot of talking to their daughters about their father’s work as a soldier.

“We had a lot of help from the Family Readiness Group,” Andrew Walker said. “They gave us Sesame Street videos that talk about deployment.”

“They just know their Dad is going to do a job,” Alexandria Walker said.

Kendall added, “We got dolls!”

She called her doll a “daddy” doll. It is a rag doll of soldier in camouflage that has pre-recorded messages from Andrew Walker. Kendall and Milee can hear their father’s voice when they press the doll’s hand.

It will be the first deployment for soldiers Gabriela Garza, of Mattoon, and Danika Pratt, of Carlinville.

“I will be away from my kids,” Pratt said. She is the mother of three children, ages 7, 6 and 17 months.

Her parents will care for the children during her deployment. She printed pictures and is having blankets made.

“They know they can call me anytime,” Pratt said.

During the ceremony, state and military officials spoke, including Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Brig. Gen. Richard Neely, adjutant general; Maj. Gen. Michael Zerbonia, assistant adjutant general; and Lt. Col. Greg Settle, battalion commander.

They all thanked not only the soldiers, but also their families and friends.

Pritzker called the soldiers “some of the most exemplary of the extraordinary.”

“You have all the strength of the people of Illinois standing with you,” Pritzker said. “Godspeed, soldiers.”

He presented an Illinois flag to Settle to fly during their deployment.

“There are a lot of important people here today, but the most important people are the soldiers,” Neely said. “You represent less than 1% of the population.”

He talked about the sacrifice of their families, too.

“We are here for your families, too. We have their backs. We’re here to support them,” Neely said.

“Your families and friends don’t wear a uniform but are as important. Without you, your soldiers wouldn’t be able to do the work they do,” Zerbonia said.

Settle told those gathered in Banterra Center that the 2nd Battalion 130th Infantry Regiment was the “best trained, best equipped and most ready to go” group of soldiers.

“You cannot find a better prepared organization,” Settle said.

He also thanked the veterans attending the mobilization ceremony. “Veterans helped make us who we are today.”

Settle also had to prepare his sons, ages 9 and 5, for deployment.

“We try to keep their routine the same,” he said. “It’s part of life.”

When a soldier is deployed, that family loses half of its household help. The spouse at home had to pick up that extra work. “The Guard has a great organization, Family Readiness Group, and great community support,” he said.

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© 2020 The Southern Illinoisan