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Charly Haley , Published October 27 2012

Family and friends honor Guard members heading to Guantanamo

FARGO – It was a moment many called bittersweet.

The friends and family of 29 North Dakota Army National Guard soldiers gathered Saturday morning in the Fargo Armed Forces Reserve Center to honor their loved ones being deployed to serve as military police at Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.

The soldiers are members of the 191st Military Police Company based in Fargo.

“This is in some ways a tough day, but it’s a good day at the same time,” said Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who spoke at the sendoff.

Dalrymple, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., and Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk each addressed the soldiers and the crowd at the sendoff.

“We thank you for all that you’ve done and continue to do for our state,” Dalrymple said. “There is no doubt that North Dakota’s National Guard is the best in the nation.”

Many of the soldiers being deployed to Cuba also were deployed to Iraq from January 2008 to January 2009. Some have been on other tours, as well.

Sgt. Ronnie Garza, 33, West Fargo, said each deployment helps prepare soldiers for their next mission. He’s previously been deployed to Iraq and Haiti, and has helped with flood protection efforts in North Dakota.

“You learn a little bit of something from each one, and you bring it with you,” he said. “That’s what makes you the soldier you are.”

Garza said he will miss his family the most. He teared up as he listed off the names of his six young children: J.R., Mercedes, Journey, Javin, R.J. and Jersey.

“They are the reason I do what I do,” Garza said.

While he expressed sadness about leaving his family, Garza also felt a mix of positive emotions after hearing the officials speak.

“Right now, I’m feeling motivated, anxious. I’m getting ready to expect the unexpected, but I know we have the support of family and friends,” he said.

The soldiers weren’t the only ones recognized – their families were honored as well.

Lt. Col. Mark Tibor, the 191st Military Police Company commander, said deployment is harder on the families than the soldiers because the soldiers have busy days in a new environment while families have to live with someone missing at home.

“That is the worst part,” said Tibor, 47, Bismarck.

To help the families cope, teddy bears called “battalion buddies” were given to the soldiers’ children after the ceremony. After addressing the audience, Dalrymple presented a North Dakota flag to the company, and Hoeven presented a U.S. flag.

The soldiers’ flight leaves today for their yearlong mission.