WEST ORANGE, NJ — The New Jersey National Guard shipped the Alpha Company of the 104th Brigade Engineer Battalion out with a ceremony at the National Guard Armory in West Orange on Feb. 8, giving soldiers a chance to spend another day with their families before being deployed to southwest Asia for up to a year. Army officials and state Sen. Patrick Diegnan spoke to the soldiers, many who are being deployed for the first time.
Much of the ceremony was spent thanking the family and friends of the soldiers who are leaving, and Col. Robert Hughes offered support to the families who need it.
“Without family love and support our service would not be possible,” Hughes said at the event. “About 0.8 percent of the population of the country serves in the military. It’s a small community, but we understand the sacrifice that they are making.”
Hughes also stressed the importance of the soldiers leaning on one another while they are away from home. Some have been deployed before, but many are leaving for the first time.
“This is the group you’re going to look to when things get tough,” he said. “Take care of yourselves, take care of each other, hold yourselves accountable and return home safe.”
In his speech at the ceremony, Diegnan, who represents the 18th District in the New Jersey State Senate and is a past chairman of the Senate Military Affairs Committee, thanked the soldiers for their military service.
“Each one of you are heroes to our country and to the world,” Diegnan said. “Sometimes you’re going to places where you can’t even pronounce the names.”
In an interview with the West Orange Chronicle at the event, Diegnan said this was the first time he had ever been to a military farewell ceremony.
“It’s difficult to put into words,” he said. “The sacrifice that they and their families make is incredible. I’ve talked to a lot of constituents who are in the military and they always have the most pure hearts. They have no agenda. There’s a reason that those people serve.”
Several current and former New York Giants players attended the ceremony, and current long snapper Zak DeOssie spoke to the soldiers and people in attendance.
“I’ve been a part of some monumental pregame speeches and around a lot of NFL stars, but I’m pretty nervous here,” DeOssie joked. “We try to emulate what you do when we’re on the field. We equate it to going to war, but you guys are the true heroes. To the parents who are sending off your son or daughter, you should be very proud. I salute every one of you.”
Capt. Matthew Gounaris, commander of the unit being deployed, said approximately 20 percent of the soldiers have already been overseas. Of that 20 percent, many have been deployed multiple times. A soldier can expect to be deployed approximately every five years and go through about six weeks of training before shipping out. Gounaris said farewell ceremonies began during the Vietnam War and have continued to today.
“One of the biggest things is to know you’re not by yourself,” Gounaris said about giving support to military families in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “If one person is away and they’re the person who usually cuts the grass and takes out the trash, you now have to do it yourself. It ends up putting a lot on the family so we want to let them know that there are people here to support them.”
Former Giants wide receiver David Tyree’s sister served with the United States Marine Corps for 15 years, and his brother-in-law was in the military as well. In an interview with the Chronicle at the event, Tyree said he understands how hard it can be for families of soldiers.
“It can be overwhelming; it was a long tour and long deployment for her,” Tyree said of his sister. “So this is great to be a part of, giving them a chance to be sent off.”
Capt. Anthony Moretti, a guardsman who is shipping out for the first time, said his excitement is mixed with sadness about leaving home.
“There’s a lot of mixed emotions,” he said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “I’m excited to be with this group. They’ve come so far and to see it in practice is exciting. But leaving your family is never an easy thing.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic