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Family, friends send off 400 Illinois National Guard members set to deploy to Afghanistan

By Michelle Gallardo, ABC7 News

Hundreds of Illinois National Guard members are headed to Afghanistan.

It’s the largest deployment of National Guard troops in the state in roughly a decade.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker helped send off troops on Chicago’s South Side Sunday as part of one of five mobilization ceremonies taking place in Illinois this weekend.

“When the rest of us strive to serve our communities with selflessness, we would do well to emulate you,” Pritzker said.

The last deployment of the 178th Infantry Regiment was to Afghanistan from 2008 to 2009. At the time, the situation in the country was much different. Four soldiers died.

This deployment was announced late last year, even as President Donald Trump expressed his desire to bring the 14,000 U.S. service personnel still in Afghanistan home. But peace has proved elusive.

However, this year-long deployment for the 400 citizen soldiers is expected to be different. Combat fighting is no longer being carried out by U.S. troops.

“We’ll be doing base security for U.S. forces, and security of advisers as they engage with local Afghan security forces and the Afghan National Army,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Garrison of the 178th Infantry Regiment.

Unlike full-time military, these citizen soldiers have day jobs and families who might not be used to the stresses of long separations.

Michelle Weller is one of the few women in the 178th Infantry Regiment, and a mother of four young children.

Her husband, Jared Weller, said the transition will be “tough, but we will get into a schedule.”

“We have a really good support system at home,” Michelle Weller said. “So the fact that we have other family that can help us out and they know what this is about. They know that this is to serve our country.”

The 178th will spend four weeks training in Fort Bliss, Texas, before heading to Afghanistan sometime in September.

This article originally appeared on ABC7 News.

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