Thirty-one members of the South Dakota Air National Guard are heading to southeast Asia. The 114th Fighter Wing was mobilized in a ceremony Monday morning. The small unit helps both veterans and those on their first tour come together.
For the first time since 2008, the 114th Fighter Wing is going abroad. The mobilization ceremony is the start of a journey that features nine members heading out on their very first tour, including Airman First Class Jeremy Nelson.
"It gets really hard to say goodbye," A1C Nelson said. "It's like when I went to basic. You have to say goodbye. It'll be a tough thing to get through at first, but by the end, we'll be ready to come home."
This will be Senior Master Sergeant Patrick Marino's fourth time overseas. But despite his past experience, each deployment has its own unique circumstances.
"We're always in the mindset," SMSgt. Marino said. "But it's always a readjustment because in four years, there's been a lot of faces that have changed. People come and go, new guys coming in, old guys going out. So we're always trying to get reacquainted with everyone that's there and up to speed on all of our training."
Despite the mix of both old and new, with only 31 members in the unit, Nelson's comfortable with the bonds he's developed.
"We're a real tight group," Nelson said. "Between our fire team leaders, our squad leaders, we're a real tight group. We know each other's families and we can just talk to each other."
"There's a lot of mental things that are happening and physical as well," Marino said. "So, it's always good to have some people there that have been there before to help them out through the hard times."
And if the crowd at the mobilization ceremony is any indication, the 114th will be celebrated even as they leave behind their biggest fans.
"It's a good experience," Nelson said. "It feels pretty good knowing that all these people are behind you here, ready for you, praying for you, ready for you to come home."
Although their location isn't disclosed, Marino says the unit will focus on base security in their time overseas for the next six months.