EVANSVILLE — It was a night of excitement, and farewells, for Hoosier soldiers.
On Tuesday, 300 Indiana National Guard soldiers said their goodbyes as they prepared for deployment to help coalition security forces in Iraq. It marked the first time the 163rd Field Artillery had deployed this many of its members since 2008.
They will spend nine months in Iraq, with some training time scheduled before they leave the United States. They are expected to return in July 2023.
"The Indiana Guard has deployments all the time. They're usually small. We're talking a handful, dozen soldiers here, a dozen soldiers there and those are happening every year. But it's not to this scale," Lt. Col. Aaron Lange said.
There are 85 countries that are a part of the global coalition the unit will be helping. The Indiana National Guard does not know which country the soldiers will be helping.
Lange said most of the time the soldiers volunteer for deployment. And sometimes officials will choose a specialist who doesn't have a family over one with children.
For many, this is the first major deployment.
Joseph Bichler has been deployed to Japan previously and said it was a cultural shock.
"We've done our research," Bichler said. "They've definitely have put us in a situation to be prepared and ready for the environment we're going to be in."
Bichler has been in the National Guard for six years. He played football in high school, and he wanted something that gave him a team dynamic and kept him fit. He also wanted to travel.
"I plan on going full-career," he said. "You learn really quickly that you see someone in uniform, that's your brother; that's your sister."
Birchler said hopes they get some free time because he plans on bringing two frisbees with him. He will be leaving his wife and two dogs at home while he is away.
Lt. Tony Carsten was the first in his family to join the National Guard. And according to his sister Jessica Carsten, Tony "came out of the womb an Army soldier. “
“He's excited and it's perfect timing for him,” Tony’s father, Jeff Carsten, said.
Tony’s mom Amy Carsten said she is going to miss having him around.
“I’m having a hard time,” Amy said. "A year is a really long time."
Supporting the families
Nicole Taylor, chairperson for Soldier Family Readiness group, said they do everything they can to aid families while the soldiers are away.
"Our job is to just support the soldier while they are gone as well as we can and make sure they have all the resources that they need as far as making sure everything at home is taken care of," Taylor said.
Vanderburgh County Sheriff candidate Noah Robinson came to represent the sheriff's office and support a friend who was deploying.
His attendance represents the role he believes the sheriff’s office plays to the families of those deploying: safety.
“I think it must be nice to know that you’ve got a person inside the Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office and the police department here keeping your family safe,” he said, noting the similarities between law enforcement and the military and the camaraderie between the two. “They know that if something were to happen, we’d be there in a second to help support that family."
Billy Towson sat in the front row with family to honor his grandson who was deploying, something he said he is proud of.
“It makes me feel way up there,” he said, gesturing to the ceiling. His grandson is among several family members who joined the service.
Towson said he served from 1952 to 1957 as a medic.
Troy Lamont King II, from Anderson, Indiana, is among the hundreds of soldiers deploying. At the age of 21, he said he’s excited to do this duty for the country and his family.
“I’m more than ready. The mission that we’re doing just happens to be my job and I’m blessed because people in my job don’t actually get to do their job in the states,” he said.
Wanting a cool job, he decided to work on air defense artillery. Coming from an armed forces family, he knew there was a possibility of joining the service, but he took a different route than most of his family.
Traditionally in his family, members joined the Marines, but King decided to try something else. While some family members don’t support him joining a different branch, they are still proud of him.
“My Marine uncles beat me up the day I was leaving. They were like, ‘Thank you for your service, I’m proud of you and a way to keep the tradition going but you chose the wrong branch,'” he said.
Afterwards he was sent on his way with a lot of support and congratulations from them.
This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: 300 National Guard soldiers leave Evansville, prepare to head to Iraq