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Tennessee’s 181st Field Artillery deploys to Middle East in bittersweet send off

Members of the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR) of the Army National Guard in Knoxville, also known as the “Tennessee Cavalry”, returned to McGhee Tyson from a deployment to the Washington D.C. metro area June 9, 2020. TNG personnel assigned to these missions are trained, equipped and prepared to assist law enforcement authorities. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Daniel Gagnon)

On the tarmac of the Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport, loved ones gathered Sunday afternoon to send off the men and women of the Tennessee National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 181st Field Artillery Regiment as it deployed for an 11-month tour of duty overseas.

Lawrenceburg residents Sgt. First Class Brendon Holt and Brooke Holt embraced in the shadow of an aircraft hanger moments before parting ways for their third deployment.

“That is what we do,” Brendon Holt said. “We signed up for it. I am happy to do it. I am proud of the guys I have. I have a lot of young guys. They will do well. We have a great team. We are going to be back in 10 months stronger than ever.”

Holt serves as the leader of a platoon that is responsible for firing weapons.

“It’s what he does. It’s his job, and he is good at,” Brooke Holt said. “It is hard, we have four kids, but I am proud of him. I know someone has got to do it, and we will be here waiting when he gets back.”

As the planes arrived to take the soldiers to their final weeks of training before departing overseas, a West Tennessee couple prepared to part ways.

“I am anxious for a new experience,” Sgt. Ethan Maronde, 24, said after kissing his wife Stephanie Maronde.

“I am also anxious about the unknown, but I know everything is going to be OK back at home.”

This is the couple’s first deployment.

“It is going to be a good experience,” Stephanie Maronde said. “He has always wanted to do one. I am happy for him, but I am sad that it is for a year.”

Franklin resident, Cody B. Magee, an aerospace flight dispatch major, held his son Lucas as the two watched the aircraft land.

“We are proud,” his wife Elaura Magee said. “It is emotional, but he loves doing this and we are ready to help. It runs it in his blood.”

Janet Provens held her grandson in her arms as she watched her daughter Jameisha Benford stand at attention during the deployment ceremony attended by state leaders.

“We are living in uncertain times,” said Provens, who lives in Chattanooga. “I am just a little bit wary, but I am trusting in God to keep her protected and bring her back safely.”

Before the battalion’s more than 350 soldiers boarded three planes at the Middle Tennessee airport, the regiment, headquartered in Chattanooga with units in Pulaski, Lawrenceburg, Fayetteville, and Dayton, were sent off with a ceremony attended by Gov. Bill Lee and U.S. Rep. Mark Green.

Green said the 1-181st Field Artillery Regiment has been described by Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, a four-star General who currently serves as the 29th chief of the National Guard Bureau, as “one of the finest field artillery units in the United States Army.”

“You are ready,” Green told the soldiers moments before their deployment. “On behalf of the United States Congress, thank you for your service. Families, thank you for your service. I know what this is like. They are an outstanding unit. They are going to do just fine, and you will see them all soon.”

He said the men and women of the battalion will protect “everything this nation strives to be.”

“That is the wall you will stand watch on — our freedom,” Green said.

Green said the solders of the 1-181st have made a choice to put something above themselves taking an oath to the Constitution.

“This is a great country, and it is worth it,” Green said. “I thank you for being ready to put your country above all else for us. God bless the men and women of this unit.”

Following mobilization training in Ft. Bliss, Texas, the department will head overseas to the Middle East in support of operations throughout the region.

“You are men and women of honor,” Lee told the men and women of the 1-181st, as he praised the soldiers for their work across the state amid the COVID-19 pandemic and their continued work soon to be carried out overseas.

“I speak for the seven million people in this state who are grateful for you, who are grateful for your families, who are grateful for your preparation, who are grateful for your sacrifice,” Lee said.

“It has …. been one of the most challenging years all of us have faced in our lives. But every step of the way, the men and women of the Tennessee National Guard prevailed to test and vaccinate, protect, defend and preserve people’s first amendment rights. The people of Tennessee’s future is what you were protecting, and we are incredibly grateful.”

He called the men and women of the state’s national guard “the face of sacrifice and service” throughout the year.

“Our way of life would not be, if it were not for each and every one of you,” Lee said.

Lee promised he and First Lady Maria Lee will pray for the soldiers as they carry out their tour of duty overseas.

“When you return in 10 months you will be deeper, richer, stronger men and women than today as you leave,” Lee said. “My prayer to you is that you will have a season that is as transformative to you as it is to your loved ones.”

“I am a very blessed man to stand before the brave men and women of this battalion. We send you with our deepest gratitude, our prayers and our love.”

Specialist Jaheel Destine was one of the last guardsmen of the battalion to board a plane on Sunday afternoon.

Before stepping onto the runway with his fellow soldiers, the Haitian-American held his two daughters and his wife.

“I am feeling proud,” Destine said. “It’s a mixed feeling, leaving your family behind. It is a sacrifice. There is a lot of excitement as well, following in the footsteps of those who had served before.”

Originally constituted in 1916 as a squadron of cavalry, the 1-181st has participated in multiple conflicts, including World War I.

The bastion known as Iron Valor was reorganized as a field artillery unit before deploying to battle during World War II. Armed with high-tech rockets, 1-181st was then dispatched to take part in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield.

It was one of two National Guard Units to deploy to both operations and serve in combat.

It was deployed to Afghanistan in 2003 and to Iraq in 2007 before being sent to Jordan in 2011, following another tour to Afghanistan in 2013 where it was recognized with the Alexander Hamilton Award for Artillery Excellence.

The battalion is now being dispatched to support Operation Spartan Shield and Operation Inherent Resolve, providing long-range precision fire in support of contingency operations and enhanced partnerships with allies in the region.

“This is your moment,” National Guard Maj. Gen. Jeffrey H. Holmes told the soldier before their departure. “You are ready, you are prepared, you are professionals. You will serve your nation proudly. I am honored to stand before you amongst heroes.”

“You have a gloried lineage and gloried past,” Holmes said, as he led the troops in an impromptu re-patching ceremony.

The battalion is currently organized under 30th Troop Command, headquartered in Tullahoma.

“You are a member of the greatest artillery unit in the military and we are ready to head out and prove that,” said Lt. Col. Phillip Hill, Jr., 1-181st Battalion Commander. “I have know doubt they will be successful.”


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