ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - A casing ceremony was held at noon March 30 in front of the 9th Area Medical Laboratory warehouse to farewell the unit's 19 Soldiers who deployed to Japan the following day.

The unit will perform radiation testing, air sampling and disease surveillance in Japan, where a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck and set off a tsunami that drowned cities and farmland in the northern part of the country.

Japan is facing the worst nuclear emergency since Chernobyl because the tsunami caused partial meltdowns and released radioactive material into the atmosphere at one of its nuclear plants.

"We in the 9th AML are all deeply honored to have this opportunity to help a nation in its time of need," said Commander Col. Rachel Armstrong to the Soldiers and their Family and friends in attendance. "I am grateful to the Army for its confidence in us, and we are all excited about the challenges that lay before us."

Traces of radiation have been found in Tokyo's water and water pouring from the reactors in the ocean. As of March 31, the nation's death toll hit 11,600 and 16,000 people were listed as missing.

Aberdeen Proving Ground's 9th AML boasts a unique mission within the Department of Defense. Deploying worldwide as a unit or by task-organized teams, the highly trained Soldiers perform surveillance, confirmatory analytical lab testing and health hazard assessments of environmental, occupational, endemic and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive threats.

Despite its intended duties, "we all know that our mission will evolve once people realize the knowledge and expertise that lies within the Soldier scientists of the 9th AML," said Armstrong.

The deployment was unexpected, but one that they are always prepared for.

"I am really proud of our ability to pack up and get ready on such short notice," said Maj. Amy King.

"This unit really embodies the Army's values of duty and selfless service," said Armstrong.