VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Just because the United States is winding down operations in Afghanistan does not mean there isn't still important work to be done in the Middle East.
One National Guard unit from Camp Pendleton is about to find out, as it deploys later this year to the U.S. Central Command area of operations.
The Virginia National Guard's 329th Regional Support Group has received a mobilization order for federal active duty in Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S. mission to counter ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
The more than 80 citizen-soldiers will begin a 10-month deployment, serving as the base operating support integrator for multiple installations.
Their job: to provide contingency and expeditionary base operations support, with responsibilities for managing facilities, providing administrative and logistical support of soldier services, and ensuring the security of personnel and facilities on a base camp.
This will be the 329th's first mission overseas.
"This is a fantastic opportunity for a Guard unit to show this is the job you've asked us to do, we're going to go do it, and show you how good we can do it," said Colonel Todd Pegg.
The soldiers have mixed feelings, of course. They are excited to contribute to the fight, but they're sad to leave loved ones behind.
"Everybody that's going is chomping at the bit," said CAPT Brian Pool. "And we've got soldiers from other units calling us almost every day now, saying, 'Hey, I want to go, how can I sign up? Is there anything I can do for the unit?'"
Specialist Kareem Awad said, "I live with my Mom and Dad and also I have two brothers at home. So, I mean, they're pretty excited for me but they're also kind of sad to see me go."
Awad continued: "Honestly, I feel pretty honored. I feel great. It's something that only once in a while that a National Guardsman gets to go down-range and do their job. So, pretty excited for it."
The National Guard has not said yet exactly where the 329th team is going, nor when the unit will be heading out other than the fall.
Soldiers will conduct mobilization training at various locations in Virginia over the next few months, will then report to Fort Hood, Texas, for the final mobilization training, and will deploy from there.
The National Guard says more information about a departure ceremony will be made available when details are finalized.
The unit has been very busy. Just in the last year alone, it has provided much-needed assistance to flood-ravaged southwest Virginia, and it has contributed to the state's COVID-19 pandemic response efforts.
Missions included N95 mask fit training, support to COVID-19 testing sites, logistics support for shipments of personal protective equipment around the Commonwealth, support to local food banks, and personnel to conduct the command and control for three Virginia Guard COVID response Task Forces.