JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – More than 200 Florida Guardsmen deployed Thursday morning for a four-month mission in support of Operation Spartan Shield.
The 230 members of the Florida National Guard's 125th Fighter Wing had already said goodbye to their families before the send-off event from Pecan Park Drive.
But Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was part of the send-off, said those loved ones have his respect, as well.
The governor greeted each member of the Wing with a handshake and thanks as they got on the plane.
"We appreciate what they are doing. We appreciate their service," DeSantis said. "The folks who are spouses and kids, that’s tough on them as well."
Operation Spartan Shield, a Department of Defense operation, began in 2012 and is ongoing. While the official mission is listed in Southwest Asia, officials told News4Jax that they couldn't give specifics, but they said most people would identify the region as the Middle East near the Dubai area.
"We will just keep it to the Middle East, today, is where they are going," said Col. Paul Reedy, commander of the 125th Fighter Wing. "Primarily, our aircraft that we have at the 125th Fighter Wing is a defensive aircraft, so we are primarily there to protect our Airmen and partners in the region."
The Wing could be gone for months as part of the deployment. To be gone that long will likely be tough for the Guardsmen's families, but they said the mission is important.
The 125th Fighter Wing has been part of Northeast Florida since 1947. Currently, more than 1,600 of its Airmen are assigned to 23 units in five regions around the world. The Wing flies the F-15 Eagle fighter jet and provides combat support. The Wing also helps Floridians during times of crisis.