VANDERBURGH COUNTY, Ind. (WEHT) – Saying goodbye to family and friends is never easy in any circumstance, especially when it could be for an entire year. On Tuesday, over 300 Indiana National Guardsmen and women from the 163 Field Artillery said their goodbyes at a sendoff ceremony held at Christian Fellowship Church before being deployed to Iraq.
“All soldiers in the National Guard are trained that when they’re called, we’re gonna go, we’re gonna get the mission done,” said Sergeant Joseph Bichler who is in his sixth year serving.
The soldiers were praised at the ceremony for their bravery and service, and it was bittersweet for many in the guard and in attendance. Some showed their excitement for a new step in their career.
“It’s been a dream of mine to be able to do this. 13 year old me would kind of be screaming right now to be able to do this,” said First Lieutenant Tony Carsten.
Specialist Rayumos Hope said, “I feel like it’s gonna be a good step for me. I feel like I want to do this for as long as I can. So I want to have the best career possible.”
Many of the soldiers said getting to represent their country overseas is an honor. 1LT Carsten said it’s always something he’s wanted to be able to do, so finally getting to go to Iraq is an honor.
“[It’s] absolutely an honor,” added Sgt. Bichler. “Like I said, we all joined to hopefully one day do this. To have my name finally picked up and to be going to a place like we are, I’m definitely ready for the challenge.”
But the honor of being chosen doesn’t necessarily make the time and distance away much easier.
1LT Carsten’s family stood by watching him in tears. His mom, Amy Carsten, said, “It’s been a roller coaster. I’m very proud of him for all his accomplishments and everything he has done. Just gonna miss him a lot. Because he’s when he comes home, he just brings so much life to the house so we’re gonna miss that. Nine months is gonna be hard, but I’m very proud of him. And I know he’s excited about this trip and journey.”
Sgt. Bichler just got married in May and is devastated having to leave his wife back in the Tri-State. He said they “try not to think about it. But nights like last night were definitely tough. You’re sitting there, you’re having a conversation, but you’re saying words, you’re just kind of filling the void.”
As he held back tears, he added, “I’ve dealt with a lot, but it’s tough. That’s, that’s all I got to say on that one.” When asked what is going to help get him through the next year, he said watching the Kansas City Chiefs.
But the soldiers have trained for this moment and they say they are making the best of their situation.
“The guys I’m with, we clicked right away, so they’re going to be my family over there,” said 1LT Carsten. “And we’re more than ready to be able to do it.”
With the Soldier and Family Readiness Center in Evansville that offers a wide range of support for the soldiers and their families during the deployment, they can rest assured that back at home, their loved ones are in good hands…
Nicole Taylor with the Soldier and Family Readiness Center said, “if they don’t have that support, that’s when we step in and we find support and resources for them. Not everyone has a village around them, but we tried to create a village for them if they don’t have that and make sure that they’re as comfortable as possible.”
This is the first deployment for this group since 2008 and fourth trip overall, including 2002 and 2006.