Vermont Soldiers to Serve Middle East Mission

Saying goodbye to family and friends is quite different during the pandemic, members of the Vermont National Guard noted

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The Vermont National Guard, which will see more soldiers serving overseas missions this year than in any other in more than a decade, held a send-off ceremony Friday for a few hundred members who will soon depart for duty.

Task Force Avalanche is on its way to U.S. Central Command in the Middle East.

“You’re the tip of the spear — the first of over 2,000 soldiers from our six-state brigade heading out the door,” Col. Brey Hopkins told the group gathered outside in single-digit temperatures.

New Hampshire, Connecticut and Colorado are among the states also represented in the brigade Hopkins referred to.

Another speaker said the deployment is important to ensuring U.S. security. Specific duties of deploying service members tend to not be described under military policy.

A few hundred members of the Vermont National Guard’s Task Force Avalanche are on their way to U.S. Central Command in the Middle East

The year-long deployment to Central Command in the Middle East is one of several missions and destinations that’ll see roughly 950 Vermont Guard members far from home in 2021.

That’s the most since 2010, Guard officials noted.

Citizen soldiers are finding saying goodbye in the era of coronavirus is very different. There are far fewer get-togethers with friends and family, and most supporters watched Friday’s ceremony remotely, through a livestream.

“It was kind of rough just keeping it to the immediate family and not saying goodbye to all the friends and family you wanted to say goodbye to,” said Spc. Noah Cook, a Norwich University student who is deploying with Task Force Avalanche. “We’ve got FaceTime, social media — which is a great tool — to keep in contact, to say goodbye, keep updates.”

Maj. Gen. Greg Knight, the Vermont Guard commander, told NECN that the Vermont Army and Air National Guard have had few positive COVID-19 cases.

Still, he said training was adjusted for safety and prevention measures like masking were a big focus before the deployment approached.

“If we can get both vaccines into our soldiers before they deploy, we’re doing that,” Maj. Gen. Knight added. “And they’ll be quarantined, to some degree, when they get to their mobilization site.”

Knight emphasized that there will be a lot of support for loved ones on the home front while so many personnel are gone.

You can bet those families are already dreaming of how to celebrate happy homecomings — hopefully with the pandemic far in the rear-view mirror.

“For the time when we get back, I know for myself and my family, we’re all getting together and going on a vacation,” Staff Sgt. Josh Kuit said.

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