Few Clouds 42° Good Afternoon
Few Clouds 42° Good Afternoon

Tears shed as local soldiers deploy to Afghanistan

Army National Guard Pfc. Claudia Cardoza of

Army National Guard Pfc. Claudia Cardoza of the Bronx hugs a friend before deploying to Afghanistan Sunday with more than 450 soldiers of the 101st Expeditionary Signal Battalion, based in Yonkers, Orangeburg and Peekskill. A deployment ceremony took place at Stewart Air National Guard base in Newburgh. (Aug. 19, 2012) Photo Credit: Meghan Murphy

With tears trickling down her face, Genesis Vasquez waved a small U.S. flag in farewell to her husband of one week, Sgt. Herick Vasquez, who stood with his company waiting to deploy at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh on Sunday.

The couple wed Aug. 10 at Yonkers City Courthouse knowing that they would part just nine days later. The husband boarded an aircraft at about 11 a.m. with more than 450 New York Army National Guard Soldiers of the 101st Expeditionary Signal Battalion, based in Yonkers, Orangeburg and Peekskill.

"I'm just really sad," his wife said. "I'm trying to be supportive. We have to be supportive of him."

The battalion members had time to mingle and say farewell over pastries and coffee in the morning before the deployment ceremony. Dads held their toddlers while children ran around the hangar playing.

Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Sherwood Johnson, based in Yonkers, hugged his girlfriend, Nicole Lifite, of Albany, who is three months pregnant.

"It's my first deployment and my first baby," Johnson said. "I'll probably miss the birth."

The battalion will play a crucial role in Afghanistan, establishing and maintaining communications networks that allow generals to command troops. Its work also enables active-duty service members like Johnson, who intends to chat with Lifite by video, to stay in touch with loved ones at home.

Once the battalion was called to formation, the commanders underlined the importance of their training and mission during a ceremony with speeches and patriotic songs.

"The Army that we have in Afghanistan does not communicate, unless you soldiers are there for support," said Brig. Gen. Michael Swezey, commander of the 53rd Troop Command in Valhalla, from the podium.

Elena Butler, of Tappan watched the ceremony with her two daughters, her son-in-law and her 1-year-old grandson, Jaxson Mullens. They all came to see off Butler's husband, Sgt. Darrell Butler, who has served in the National Guard for about 19 years but is deploying for the first time at 51 years old.

"It's a very emotional day," Butler said through sobs.

After the ceremony, the soldiers marched through the hangar with the company as their family members lined the room with tissues in hand. They shouted supportive words of "We love you, Daddy!" and "You go, girl!" -- though their eyes were red.

Many lingered outside to watch the men and women board a flight that will take them first to Fort Bliss, Texas, for post-mobilization training before heading to Afghanistan.

Herick Vasquez's mother, Maria Rodriguez of the Bronx, stood outside the hangar with her brand-new daughter-in-law, waving goodbye one last time.

"Our mission back here is to pray for them," Rodriguez said.

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