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153rd 'excited and ready to go'

PARKSTON -- The reality of an impending deployment is setting in for area guard members. While many community members are nervous and some families are spending their final days together for nearly a year, Parkston Mayor Dave Hoffman said morale ...

PARKSTON - The reality of an impending deployment is setting in for area guard members.

While many community members are nervous and some families are spending their final days together for nearly a year, Parkston Mayor Dave Hoffman said morale is high in the town of nearly 1,500.

"I know quite a few of the guard members and they're apprehensive about what's going to happen," Hoffman said. "They're nervous, their families are nervous, but there's a lot of community support, so they're doing real well."

In July, the soldiers from the National Guard 153rd Engineer Battalion received official orders for a nine-month deployment to Kuwait. The unit, based in Huron, will provide command and control for other engineer units. Logistics and maintenance support will be provided by the battalion's Parkston-based Forward Support Co. The units will report to Fort Bliss, Texas, to complete several weeks of theater-specific training prior to deployment overseas.

The Parkston unit is made up of people from Tripp, Menno, Freeman, Mitchell, Sioux Falls and other surrounding towns

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For Hoffman, who's been Parkston mayor since 2002, this is the second time he will watch a chunk of his patrons deploy. In 2004-2005, the 153rd deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. And Hoffman said the second mobilization of the 153rd speaks volumes about the men and women who make up the unit.

"Not everybody gets to go and serve the United States-you have to be asked to do that," Hoffman said. "It has to be elite or better-trained troops, and Parkston's always had that. They've been asked to go back, so it says a lot about the people in that unit and I'm awful proud of them."

On Friday, a deployment ceremony will be held for approximately 165 soldiers of the South Dakota Army National Guard's 153rd Engineer Battalion at the Huron Arena. Roughly 80 of the soldiers live in Parkston.

Planned speakers for the ceremony, which is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m., includes Lt.Gov. Matt Michels, U.S. Sen. John Thune, U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem and Maj. Gen. Tim Reisch, South Dakota National Guard adjutant general.

Prior to the ceremony in Huron, the Parkston community will host its own celebration earlier in the day.

According to 1st Sgt. Darren Bigge, a "local activation ceremony" for the FSC will begin at 9 a.m. at the Parkston Armory. Bigge said officials are expecting approximately 1,500 people to attend the event, in which Hoffman and other area guests will present speeches.

Following the event, Bigge said there isn't an organized sendoff scheduled for community members to see soldiers off to Huron. Instead, the Parkston VFW is hosting a lunch for service members and their immediate family, so soldiers will be released following the morning ceremony to participate.

And as the deployment approaches, Bigge said he and his comrades are ready.

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"We're excited and ready to go," Bigge said. "We're going to go and do what we've been training to do our whole military careers."

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