Nearly 600 Connecticut National Guard troops gathered Wednesday as they prepared to leave for eastern Africa on a major mission in the global war on terrorism.
The move marked the single largest deployment since 2009 for the Connecticut troops, which often conduct missions with up to 150 troops.
Troops who were interviewed at the send-off at the Bradley Air National Guard Base in East Granby said they were excited about the mission that will last from 10 months to a year.
Lt. Eleanor Baranofsky of Waterford previously served in Kuwait and understands the dynamics of being in a military family.
“It’s hard to be away from home,” she said. “My husband is active duty in the Navy. We both support and understand each other’s career.”
As an engineer officer in an infantry unit, she said she would work to “improve the base defenses” in Africa.
The troops were headed for Djibouti to help with port and airfield security and also provide a regional, “quick-reaction force” if necessary. Connecticut troops will be joining fellow Guard soldiers from Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Colorado in an overall group of about 1,000 troops.
They were headed Wednesday night for training in Texas with the other units before eventually arriving in Africa.
Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, wearing a mask, told the Courant that she planned to “elbow-bump” the troops as they boarded the plane.
“I feel honored to do that,” Bysiewicz said.
Maj. Gen. Francis Evon, the highest commanding officer in the Guard, said that no women would have been in a similar deployment 10 years ago. But out of 600 troops on Wednesday, about 50 to 75 were women.
Evon said the group headed overseas is the same group that set up hospital beds at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven and other spots during the COVID-19 crisis.
“That’s the uniqueness of the Guard,” Evon said. “They all volunteer to be something larger than themselves.”
The 102nd Infantry Regiment will be helping Operation Enduring Freedom, which is the military’s name for the global war on terrorism that began following the 9/11 attacks nearly 20 years ago.
“These guys are amazing — guys and girls,” said Gov. Ned Lamont, who was not at the send-off, said earlier Wednesday. “Everything they’ve been doing over the last year — to setting up our testing centers, our field hospitals, and there they are going off to the Horn of Africa — one of the most dangerous places on Earth — to bring peace. I could not be more proud of our Guard.”
In the far eastern end of Africa, the Horn includes countries like Somalia and Ethiopia that have experienced unrest through the years. Five countries in the Horn have a combined population of about 115 million people with the largest being Ethiopia at about 96 million and Somalia being second at about 15 million.
“The Guard has different specialties, and they are usually called to provide for medical or transportation or logistics,” Lamont said.
The flight Wednesday had been delayed to 7:40 p.m.
The deployment was large compared to others in recent years. Nearly 150 troops went to Kuwait in 2019, while 123 headed out to help in a yearlong mission to Cuba.
(c) 2021 The Hartford Courant
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.