Ashley Rodrigue / Eyewitness News
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HAMMOND -- These National Guardsmen, on the brink of a deployment overseas, sounded fearless in their commitment to protect their country Friday.

'I'm going to be volunteering with the 1021st. I'll be able to have a stronger bond, make new battle buddies and just enjoy this deployment to the fullest,' said Spc. Damonica Negrete, who has deployed before.

Sgt. Jonathan Birch, who has never deployed before, said, 'I love to serve my country, I love to serve people. It's always something I've always done. I'm actually a police officer for Baton Rouge. It's just part of me.'

But many friends and family members were quick to admit they didn't share that confidence.

Wife Cassandra Smith said, 'Just the separation. We've been together since we were 18, and it's just gonna be hard to be separated from him and having him there to lean on for everything I need him for.'

'A little nervous, but I'm confident they'll do fine,' said Mike Oliver with the Patriot Guard Riders.

Even harder for some in this community is saying goodbye, for now, so soon after saying goodbye forever to Tickfaw-native Army Spc. Chris Drake.

Pvt. Carey Young, from Tickfaw, said, 'I have to go and do what I have to do; that's why I became a soldier, to defend the country. He did what he had to do and I'm glad he's in a better place now.'

But the chance to leave messages on a flag to fly with the 1021st Vertical Engineering Company, a tradition by the Patriot Guard Riders, and the 'Hug a Hero' dolls handed out for children, are ways to ease the separation.

Gov. Bobby Jindal said, 'Today you set out to offer your abilities, your service and even your lives if necessary to protect our peace here at home.'

But before leaving home, hugs, pictures and pleas to return soon were widespread.

The deployment is a year-long and it includes training in Fort Bliss, Texas. This unit will be involved in vertical construction work in and around Kuwait, including building concrete operations, plumbing and electrical systems.

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