GREEN Sitting in wooden chairs spaced 6-feet apart, about 100 soldiers readied to say goodbye.
Ohio National Guard Company B, 3rd Battalion, 238th Aviation Regiment -- a general support aviation battalion based in the North Canton area -- will soon depart on a yearlong overseas deployment in support of U.S. Central Command.
Officials could not be more specific about the regiment’s destination or date of departure because of security concerns.
This deployment is one of the toughest challenges the unit -- which has previously deployed to Afghanistan and assisted in hurricane relief in the U.S. -- has faced, said Capt. Tara Pappas, unit commander.
"I have faith in all of you, as my brothers and sisters in arms, to rise to the occasion to meet this challenge as you have met those that came before, to accomplish this mission and, most importantly, to bring each other home safe," she said.
The unit operates the CH-47F Chinook helicopters. Its primary roles are troop movement, equipment transport, and battlefield resupply, according to a news release.
Tuesday’s Call to Duty ceremony was a departure from the typical packed-house of family and loved ones waving flags and cheering.
To comply with health and safety restrictions created by the coronavirus, the ceremony was held at the Army Aviation Support Facility near the Akron-Canton Airport and livestreamed on the Ohio National Guard Facebook page. Hundreds of well wishers sent out streams of emoji hearts and hugs and left messages during the approximately 20-minute event.
The ceremonies are often geared toward the families of soldiers, said Staff Sgt. Michael Wirick of Canton in a video interview after the ceremony.
"To have your family not around is kind of a major shift and change."
Wirick, 41, has focused on spending as much time as possible with his two daughters before deploying.
Keeping up communication with family while deployed is huge, he said.
Spec. Riley Black, 20, of Massillon, hoped to see her father, Sgt. Joseph Black, who is returning home soon from an Ohio National Guard mission, before embarking on her first deployment.
"He’s been super supportive of the whole thing," she said. "As a dad, he jokes that he doesn’t want me to go overseas or anything, but then he’s like, `Well, I understand why you want to go.’"
Black’s family was disappointed they couldn’t attend the ceremony, but she knew they were watching online.
The typed well wishes and messages of love meant just as much as they would in person, she said. "It’s nice to see all the support."
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