PIERRE, S.D. – (DRG News) About 400 people gathered Saturday at Riggs High School for a deployment ceremony for the South Dakota National Guard’s 152nd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, based in Pierre. The hour long ceremony was held in the school gym and featured as speakers-Governor Dennis Daugaard, Pierre Mayor Laurie Gill, Major General Timothy Reisch and Lt. Colonel Michael Oster-who commands the 152nd. The unit’s 68 soldiers will spend about six months in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
During Saturday’s ceremony, Governor Daugaard told the soldiers that he is proud of them, offered prayers for their safe return and thanked the soldiers’ families and employers for their sacrifices, as well. Daugaard said before the ceremony that the soldiers have a lot on their minds as they prepare to serve.
Mayor Gill cited the importance of the South Dakota National Guard to the communities of Pierre and Fort Pierre during the 2011 flood and said after Saturday’s ceremony that citizens want to return that support when possible.
Major General Reisch told the audience he couldn’t be more proud of this unit; which is one of the Guard’s newest. He said he looks forward to the return of the troops in 2014. Speaking with reporters before the ceremony, Reisch said he believes that many South Dakota troops will be back in the state as President Barack Obama’s drawdown of troops in Afghanistan progresses in the coming year.
Current plans call for at least one other South Dakota-based Army Guard unit to deploy in December-according to Reisch. Once the 152nd arrives in Afghanistan, Reisch says there will be more than 400 Guard members serving overseas from South Dakota.
Lt. Colonel Oster says it’s hard to know how the drawdown will impact the members of the 152nd while they are in Afghanistan.
Oster says about 25% of the 152nd soldiers are from the Pierre area and the rest are from other parts of the state. He says at least half of the soldiers in his unit have deployed before and all bring a great deal of knowledge to their service. Specialist Josh Becker of Pierre is one of the members of the 152nd. This is his first deployment with the guard and he said Saturday that he’s leaving behind his wife and two daughters. He says the unit has known about the deployment for about two years and they have been working hard to prepare.
Becker is originally from White River and has been with the Guard for about seven years. He says he signed up to serve for a few different reasons.
The 152nd was escorted from the Armory in Pierre to the Airport by law enforcement vehicles and a caravan of veterans on motorcycles Sunday afternoon. Several family members watched from outside a fence near the old airport terminal as a plane carrying the soldiers departed during the noon hour yesterday. The group will spend several weeks in Fort Hood,Texas for training prior to deployment.
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