It was a tearful and emotional afternoon Wednesday. Approximately 550 members of Kansas Army National Guard were honored during a ceremony at the Bicentennial Center in Salina as they deployed to the Horn of Africa for a year-long mission.
Among them was Spc. Tyler Mermis, son of Patty Smith of Great Bend.
"It was a moving experience," Smith said, who attended the event with family members. Mermis, Great Bend native and 1994 Great Bend High School grad, is now a resident of Marion where he is the assistant police chief and coaches baseball.
The soldiers are from the 1st Battalion, 161st Field Artillery, headquartered in Wichita, with subordinate units in Dodge City, Great Bend, Lenexa, Liberal, Hutchinson, Newton, Paola, Pratt and Topeka.
"I told him I was proud of him," Smith said. At 35, he had served in the Marines before joining the Guard.
Mermis’ wife Melissa and his two children were also on hand. Smith said the children didn’t want to let go of their father.
Lt. Governor Jeff Colyer and Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli, the adjutant general, spoke at the ceremony.
"These Guardsmen will be working closely with local entities to build relationships," said Tafanelli. "They will be mentors and advisers, sharing what they have learned as soldiers and citizens of Kansas and learning from the people they will meet, as well."
The unit is commanded by Lt. Col. Thomas Burke and the command sergeant major is Command Sgt. Maj. Ricky Matticks.
"The stability mission is perfect for our citizen soldiers," said Burke. "Guardsmen bring depth to the partnership building between nations. We have an understanding of what citizens want when developing and protecting stability."
The unit’s mission will be to conduct stability operations in various Africa nations in order to strengthen partner nation and regional security capacity to enable long-term regional stability, prevent conflict and protect U.S. and Coalition interests.
Mermis will be assigned to Kenya.
The soldiers deployed to Camp Atterbury, Ind., for some additional mission-specific training and then on to the Horn of Africa.