FORT STEWART, Georgia – For more than a year, the Soldiers of the 146th Expeditionary Signal Battalion (ESB) have been preparing for their first overseas deployment since 2009. Their mission is to provide a wide range of tactical and strategic signal support across multiple countries in U.S. Central Command’s (CENTCOM) Area of Responsibility, which will enable the CENTCOM commander to conduct countless critical overseas missions.Just days before mobilizing, the Department of Defense issued travel restrictions that prevented domestic and international travel to combat the COVID-19 virus, and the 146th ESB waited for a “stop movement” order that never came.Consequently, the mobilization process continued with strict adherence to social distancing and other safety precautions, which ensured the Soldiers of the 146th ESB could take their critical mission set to the region.The 146th ESB is no stranger to critical missions, having established communications for the Florida National Guard and its emergency response partners throughout numerous hurricanes and other natural disasters. Lt. Col. Jennifer Hunt, commander of the 146th ESB, said her battalion would be just as successful in their federal mission as they have been domestically, and that the two are very similar.“The only significant difference is the distance,” said Hunt. “Instead of executing all missions within one state, we will be located across five different countries.”The other significant difference is the requirement to support Network Enterprise Centers (NEC), which is typically more of a garrison support function. Therefore, select Soldiers of the 146th ESB have attended specific training events designed to teach them the additional skillsets necessary to conduct NEC operations.The battalion also completed Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) proficiency training and Security Plus classes, in addition to the required Army Warrior Tasks. Each task targeted a specific skill set needed for a tactically proficient signal Soldier and prepared them for their upcoming missions.The network plans officer 1st Lt. Gabrielle Magnanti in the 146th’s Headquarters and Headquarters’ Company, will serve as the Battle Captain in the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) throughout the upcoming deployment. She will receive, validate and disseminate all information that comes into the TOC from new or changing missions and equipment statuses to personnel management and current events in every region that 146th troops occupy.This deployment will be Magnanti’s first and despite serving in such a high-profile position, she is confident that the Soldiers of the 146th ESB are trained and proficient in their respective duties.“I believe that we will not only achieve the mission set ahead of us but excel in it,” said Magnanti. “I look forward to all that I will learn about myself, my team, and deployment operations.”She said that she gained her confidence from the mobilization process that helped train and prepare the battalion for the upcoming deployment. Aiding in that process was the 188th Infantry Brigade of the 1st Army Division East.1st Army’s mission is to provide readiness oversight and mobilization for all U.S. Army Reserve and Army National Guard units. While their primary mobilization stations are Fort Hood and Fort Bliss, both in Texas, Fort Stewart, Georgia also possesses the capacity to provide all of the necessary facilities and resources needed to deploy units like the 146th ESB.Preparing the 146th ESB for deployment has been a team effort, however, throughout the 146th’s mobilization process, personnel from the 188th executed all of the training, then received and recorded the documentation showing Soldiers completed all required tasks.Fort Stewart’s Mobilization Support Force is comprised of members of the Georgia National Guard. The latter worked alongside the Soldiers of the U.S. Army Reserve’s 2nd Logistics Support Battalion, 349th Regiment, to provide critical resources throughout the mobilization process. Now wholly validated, the 146th ESB was deemed ready for deployment.Commander of the 188th, U.S. Army Col. Jacob Larkowich, said that while his brigade is highly proficient at preparing Soldiers for deployment, DoD restrictions set in place to combat the spread of COVID-19 made this particular mobilization unique.“We took deliberate measures to mitigate the risks both to our Soldiers and the Soldiers of the 146,” said Larkowich. “I see one of our primary roles is to deliver healthy Soldiers to the combatant command that they’re going to. We need to protect those Soldiers from exposure to COVID-19.”As the rest of the world practiced social distancing, the 188th followed suit, reducing their typical classroom size from 40 or more to less than 10 per block of instruction and moving many of the classes outdoors, where students were spread further apart. Just as other branches of the DoD were implementing telework, the 188th also converted many of their traditional learning environments to virtual classrooms.While working together on signal training, Soldiers of the 146th ESB donned protective face masks and sanitized work stations. Their dining facility also provided to-go meals and mandatory handwashing stations. In the barracks, capacity was kept at a minimum, allowing the Soldiers adequate space from their fellow occupants. These safety protocols proved useful and so far, no deploying members have tested positive nor experienced any symptoms of COVID-19.While these measures might seem extreme and indeed a stark contrast to the typical Army environment, Larkowich says that the standards have not changed.“All we changed was the delivery method. All of the validation requirements that we planned six, nine and 12 months ago were executed over the time that the 146th was here,” said Larkowich.Now cleared to move into the next phase of their deployment, Hunt says the 146th ESB’s relationship with its partners in Georgia made everything possible.“From the very beginning the 188th, Fort Stewart, and our Georgia Army National Guard (GAARNG) partners have focused on providing relevant and realistic training, designed to ensure our readiness and success in theater,” said Hunt. “Their level of commitment was only magnified by their continued support post-COVID-19. The pandemic essentially resulted in the 188th having to completely rebuild their training support plan a week out from our arrival. At any time, they and the GAARNG could have raised the white flag and pulled their support, but they didn’t. Our continued mobilization is a direct reflection of their dedication and hard work.”For more National Guard news: http://www.nationalguard.mil/National Guard Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheNationalGuard/National Guard Twitter: https://twitter.com/usnationalguard