LAFAYETTE, La. (KLFY) Governor John Bel Edwards addressed soldiers with the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team Wednesday.

“We have the absolute best national guard in the United States of America,” Edwards said.

The COVID pandemic and natural disasters over the last six months have required the brigades response. These citizen soldiers have spent countless hours away from their families, and on Wednesday, they left again, this time for about a year.

Wednesday began before the sun came up with a final farewell gathering for soldiers and their families.

It was the last opportunity for hugs and visits in person until they return home.

The group that left Wednesday includes leadership and the 256th headquarters team. Some of them, like Sgt. Lane Bergeron, are deploying for the first time.

“At first, I thought going on this deployment, I was going to have to put my civilian life on hold, but then I realized that I could do so much more, grow mentally, physically stronger out there,” Bergeron explained.

Others have deployed multiple times, but this time, according to SSGT. Noshoba Davis, feels more challenging.

“For this one, I’d say I’m a little more anxious than normal because COVID’s got everything a little different than what we’d normally see with a deployment.”

Davis says she hopes to be a support for the soldiers who are leaving for the first time,.

“That’s one of the big things is just letting them know that they have someone who can walk them through the homesickness when they do get it because everybody gets it.”

Captain Brandi Tregre commands the 256th HHC and says taking care of her soldiers is her most important responsibility. She knows how hard her unit has worked this year.

“We really redefine teamwork when it comes to this unit. I can’t ask for a better group to go down range with. I’m excited to lead these guys, and I think we’ll do just fine.”

When the plane left Lafayette Regional Wednesday, it carried more than soldiers. They are moms, dads, siblings, spouses, daughters and sons. My family and all the guard families will be praying every day for their safe return home.

Approximately 2,000 Louisiana National Guard soldiers are included in this deployment.