GLENVILLE, N.Y. -- Nineteen Soldiers from the New York Army National Guard's 501st Ordnance Battalion are headed to Afghanistan later this year, where they'll serve as the command headquarters for American and coalition explosive ordnance disposal experts operating throughout the country.
Friends, family, and Army National Guard leaders said goodbye to the team during a mobilization ceremony at their headquarters at the Armed Forces Reserve Center here on Sunday, Feb. 25.
"Take care of each other, keep each other safe, and make New York proud," Brig. Gen. Michel Natali, the commander of the 53rd Troop Command, told the Soldiers during the short ceremony.
The highlight of the ceremony was the casing of the unit's colors, signifying the deployment of the headquarters. The Soldiers will conduct post-mobilization training at Fort Bliss before deploying to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan.
This is the second deployment for the 501st, which is designed to control three to five explosive ordnance disposal companies. The unit deployed to southern Iraq in 2010.
The unit was originally only slated to deploy a cell of seven Soldiers, said Major Robert Crudden, the battalion operations officer, who will command the team deploying to Afghanistan. That requirement changed earlier this year when the United States decided to beef up force structure in Afghanistan.
Most of the Soldiers were asked to volunteer for the mission at relatively short notice and stepped up to the plate, he said.
Crudden thanked the Soldiers for leaving their jobs, their families and in some cases their educations to serve their country, during his remarks.
The 501st Soldiers will be working for the two-star general who is in command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Crudden said. He expects that they will oversee at least 100 bomb-disposal experts working throughout Afghanistan, he said.
This deployment will be the second for Staff Sgt. Zachery Smith, a Newburgh resident and an intelligence analyst. When he deployed to Afghanistan before he was a specialist. This time he'll be going as the intelligence non-commissioned officer in charge and he's looking forward to working in more of a leadership role, Smith said.
Staff Sgt. Michael Rowland, from Malta, will be on his first deployment. He's trained as an electronic warfare specialist but will be working in the personnel section during this deployment, Rowland said. But, he added, he also is looking forward to helping out in the operations section when he can.
1st Lt. Chris Bankard, a Rochester resident, said he's looking forward to his first deployment and has been listening to and learning from Soldiers who have deployed before.
In his remarks, Natali emphasized that the command would be there for the Soldier's families while they were gone.
"Remember that we here in New York will be here to take care of you and your families," he said. He also thanked the families for their support of the Soldiers.
Major General Ray Shields, the commander of the New York Army National Guard, also attended the ceremony and spoke to Soldiers and their families before and after the event.
The team is expected to spend nine to ten months in Afghanistan before returning to New York at the end of the year.