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Oklahoma Army National Guard soldiers received a unique sendoff during a deployment ceremony here Sunday.

Soldiers of B Battery, 1st Battalion, 158th Field Artillery who are preparing to deploy to the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) area of operations participated in the first virtual deployment ceremony conducted by the Oklahoma National Guard.

Loud cheers and rounds of applause, the ringing of cow bells, waving of homemade signs, and children dressed in patriotic clothing yelling for their mom or dad standing in formation were replaced by thumbs up, tearful and smiling emojis, and streams of comments on the 45th Field Artillery Brigade and Oklahoma National Guard Facebook pages, where the ceremony was broadcast live.

The live streamed ceremony allowed about 200 family members and friends of the soldiers to attend virtually. It was conducted as an alternative to an in-person ceremony due to the threat of spreading COVID-19 to the deploying soldiers.

Maj. Gen. Michael Thompson, adjutant general for Oklahoma, said this atypical way of conducting a sendoff ceremony is just one example of how the Guard has adjusted to the current environment as the state and nation move forward in responding to COVID-19.

Thompson recalled two times in the past when the uncertainty of the future was unknown until everything settled — the Alfred P. Murrah Building bombing in 1995 and the tragedy that hit the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.

“Now, we don’t know how long we are going to have to hold our breath. We don’t know how long it will be until we resume what we know as normal. I just want to tell you all to hang in there. As Americans, as Oklahomans, as soldiers, we have to succeed. The Army does not take a day off and you are evidence of that.”

Before flying overseas, the soldiers of B Battery will travel to Fort Bliss, Texas, to conduct mission-critical training. During the months leading up to their deployment, Cpt. Danny Barthel, battery commander, said training prior to their departure has gone better than he was expecting.

“The unit is well prepared and excited for the opportunity to do their jobs overseas,” Barthel said. “We were able to do a lot during our pre-mobilization training. I have great officers, non-commissioned officers and enlisted, and they made the training seamless.”

Spc. Ashley Bruce-Sparrow, a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) gunner with B Battery, said she feels comfortable deploying with her unit and she is ready for the opportunity to do her job. Despite the battery deploying while many Oklahoma Guardsmen are working COVID-19 response, she said every person in the Guard has a unique role to play.

“I don’t think anything is more important than anything else,” Bruce-Sparrow said. “Everything has to come together in the end. One thing cannot be labeled more important than the other if you have to cohesively work together.”

Barthel said regardless if the mission is focused on military operations overseas or COVID-19 response at home, soldiers from Battery B are always trained and ready.

“The National Guard is unique in that we have both a civilian and military role,” Barthel said. “As a field artillery unit, we are geared more toward the military role. In terms of mission sets, I think we are better postured towards the military side of it, but that does not mean we are not able to help where we can when we can on the civilian side.”

With a rich history and tradition dating back to 1920, B Battery has received many campaign streamers for its participation in World War II, the Korean War, the Persian Gulf War and the Global War on Terrorism.

“You are an incredible organization,” Thompson said. “What you do as you move forward, you will represent people who have worn that uniform before you, you represent the people who wear that uniform now and you will represent the people who will wear that uniform in the future. It’s a heavy responsibility, but I know you are up for the task.

“I hope by the time you come back we have solved a lot of these issues we are dealing with right now,” Thompson said. “I know it is tough deploying under these circumstances, but I want to thank you for who you are, thank you for what you represent, and thank you for all the good things we are able to have in this country because of the sacrifices you all make.”

B Battery will train at Fort Bliss for a month before deploying overseas for nine months. Once in theater, they will support coalition operations in the CENTCOM area of operations.

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