South Florida Soldiers leave for year-long deployment to Iraq, Kuwait

Written by  //  January 5, 2010  //  Feature Stories

FORT LAUDERDALE (Jan. 5, 2010)— For the second time in a decade Soldiers from the South Florida-based 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment, packed their bags, loaded a plane and are headed to Southwest Asia.More than 600 Soldiers from the battalion left Tuesday afternoon from the Ft. Lauderdale International Airport to become part of the Florida Army National Guard’s largest single-unit deployment since World War II.

Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment, depart Jan. 5, 2010. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa

The Soldiers joined nearly 2,000 other men and women from the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team who are deploying from across the state this week. They flew to Ft. Hood, Texas, where they will receive additional training before departing for Southwest Asia for a year-long mission in Kuwait and Iraq. During the deployment the Soldiers will perform various security missions, including providing convoy security for coalition forces entering and departing Iraq.

During a ceremony prior to the unit’s departure Florida Gov. Charlie Crist lauded the Soldiers for their service. “You who stand before us are very brave men and women of the Florida National Guard,” said Gov. Crist. “Your commitment to securing the freedom and democracy is what we are all here (for) today. Our state and our country are grateful – enormously grateful – for your courage.”  Speaking to the Soldiers and their families gathered for the ceremony, the Governor said he has seen the sacrifices made by the Florida National Guard during both state and federal deployments. 

“You remind us of the courage and the true determination that defineAmerica and her freedom,” he said.

Governor Crist also noted the sacrifices made by the families of the deploying Soldiers, adding that “service men and women are not the only ones who make sacrifices” during deployments. 

“We are joined today by many of your family members,” he said. “They truly make sacrifices as well.”

One of the family members present was Sgt. 1st Class Graciela Paula, a member of the Florida Army National Guard’s 13th Army Band, who was saying goodbye to her two sons as they deployed with the 1st Battalion.  

With tear-filled eyes Paula hugged her sons Malhieu and Elih DePaula – both privates first class – and posed for several photos with them after the ceremony. Malhieu is 19-years-old and serves in the battalion’s Bravo Company, and Elih is 20 and serves in the battalion’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company. 

She said this is their first combat deployment, and although Paula is proud of them she is already feeling emotional about the impending separation. 

“It already hit me a while back, but today it is really going to hit me,” Paula said.  While younger Soldiers like the DePaula’s were preparing for their first overseas deployment, some Guardsmen were readying for a return to a combat theater. 

Staff Sgt. Matthew Jefferson, from A Company, 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment, explained that this was his second deployment with the Florida National Guard – he deployed to Afghanistan in 2005 – and he was bringing that experience from his first combat tour with him.  

“I’m very confident that a lot of us have been to war prior to this,” Jefferson said, “and a lot of us have prior law enforcement experience that we bring in.”

Soldiers from the battalion are based inHollywood,Cocoa,Miami andWest Palm Beach.Fla.