A big military milestone was recognized in northeast Florida on Thursday with the 100th federal deployment for the Florida National Guard since the 9/11 attacks.
The Guard held a special ceremony at Camp Blanding to honor the soldiers.
Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, more than 17,000 members of the Florida National Guard have deployed around the world for operations.
"We'd like to highlight that because this really shows the resiliency of our people and the resiliency of our communities, neighbors, families," said Ron Tittle, of the Florida Department of Military Affairs. "So it is significant, and we want to thank the public, thank all of our neighbors, our employers, everyone, family's particularly for supporting all of these deployments."
The more than 50 soldiers leaving Thursday are members of the Florida Army National Guard's 2nd Batallion, 111th Aviation Regiment based at Camp Blanding.
They will first go to Fort Hood for more training before deploying overseas to Southwest Asia in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
"This unit is part of the aviation regiment, which primarily they're responsible for airfield management type of operations," Tittle said. "They've deployed numerous times before already, so this is just a recurring unit, new people in the unit naturally, and they will be responsible for helping to handle the airfield operations for aviation in Southwest Asia."
Tittle said the historic 100th ceremony reflects Florida's patriotism and resiliency. On Thursday, he thanked family members, friends, employers and colleagues for the support and confidence of Florida Guard members.
"Family members are a key part of our ceremonies and they are certainly invited," Tittle said. "It's interesting to see them being there supporting their soldiers, and then it's always a sad time saying goodbye. And we've seen that time and time again and it's never easy. It's always a lot better seeing them return home."
Loved ones of the military heroes said they're definitely sad to see them go but are also proud.
"He is my protector at home, but he is protecting our country," Meghan Delgado said of her newlywed husband, Brandon. "It makes me sad, but I couldn't be happier for him. ... I feel proud of him that he is able to do this. I know he loves the Army and serving our country, but as a newlywed, he's my husband and I'm going to miss waking up in the morning and not having him there."
The unit leaves Sunday and is expected to be gone a little less than a year.