FORT BELVOIR, Va. - More than 180 Soldiers from Fort Belvoir's 299th Engineer Company were honored Sunday during a farewell mobilization ceremony at Wells Field House.

Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Eric Lawson told a sea of family and friends the reserve unit is deploying to maintain numerous bridge operations in Iraq to help improve that country's infrastructure. Soldiers are expected to be away from their loved ones from nine to 12 months.

Brig. Gen. David Weeks, commander of the 411th Engineer Brigade, made a special trip from his post in New York to address the group in person. He said being around Soldiers is the ultimate high.

"I asked them to look around at each other. These are their battle buddies. They are the ones that will get them through this deployment," Weeks said. "I also charged the NCOs to lead this company. We're all very proud of them. I know they'll do a terrific job while over there."

One of those set to deploy is Spc. Andrew Soto, a member of the 299th for the last 18 months. A native of Columbia, he has been living in Manassas for the last 10 years. He referred to the deployment as "exciting."

"This is my first major deployment and I'm ready. I know I have the knowledge and skills to do a good job," Soto said. "I have a wife and three kids. It's not easy leaving them behind, but I'll have my brothers there with me. We'll support and encourage each other."

Sgt. Robyn Ciminohurt feels the same way. A veteran of the 299th for nine years, he is embarking on his second tour to Iraq. Though, this mission will be different. It comes at a time when he and his wife are expecting a new addition to the family.

"My wife is due sometime in December. We don't even know what it is yet. That will be a surprise right there," Ciminohurt said smiling. "Because I was over there once already, I feel I'm better prepared. Though, I always find myself learning new things every day. It's a new experience."

Over the last couple weeks, Ciminohurt said he's also noticed an outpouring of support from the community. It's come from familiar faces, as well as total strangers.

"I've gotten the thumbs up and warm wishes to come back safely," he said. "A lot of these people I don't even know. They must see my haircut and figure I'm a Soldier."

Company commander Capt. Michael Lay, who previously deployed with the 299th to both Kuwait and Iraq back in 2002, will be joining approximately 20 Soldiers from that first deployment, as well as many others, for the upcoming mission. He called the group the best bridge company in the Army.
"The rules of engagement are different, as this is more of a support mission this time around.

They are prepared for this mission and will do a fantastic job. I know it," Lay said. "I also told them they have the support of not only their families and friends, but their fellow Soldiers and the entire Belvoir community."

Lay said the 299th Engineer Company will first head to Fort McCoy, Wis., for about a month before deploying to Iraq.