Send-off for soldiers scaled back in Cherry Hill due to coronavirus concerns

CHERRY HILL, New Jersey (WPVI) -- The promotion ceremony and goodbye celebration looked different for soldiers in New Jersey just as they were about to embark on a nine-month deployment to south Florida.

The men and women were part of New Jersey National Guard's 328th Military Police Company. Military officials said 100 of them started the nine-month deployment Wednesday morning after meeting in Cherry Hill.

"The biggest thing was not having the community here. Families would've been inside, and instead they're saying goodbye in the parking lot," said Captain Justin Hunter.

Hunter wished his expecting wife and young son were all there to see him off, but he understood the change was necessary for now.

"Things will get back to some type of normalcy," Hunter said.

Until then, restrictions are necessary due to coronavirus concerns.

"Saying goodbye is always difficult, whether you're wearing a mask or not," said Sgt. First Class Manuel Larranaga.

Even with plenty of reassuring hugs to go around and heartfelt goodbyes, many were still feeling worried.

"Leaving our families knowing this is out there is kind of almost nerve-wrecking a little bit," said Larranaga.

They were all feeling that way as they headed out for Florida to support the U.S. Southern Command with security and planning operations. The soldiers will be working in regions of Central and South America, around portions of Latin American and the Caribbean.

"It's kind of unfortunate that we can't get our send-off or normal ceremony prior, but we were fortunate enough to get a little bit more time with our family," said Staff Sgt. Glenn Richardson.

Richardson's fiancee, Sylvia Martin, appreciated that time because she said they were just engaged in December.

"We knew that the deployment was coming up, but then the coronavirus happened," Martin said. "He's my hero."

Richardson's mother, Marty Richardson said, "They're doing what we need them to do and I'm proud of that."

The families are looking forward to welcoming the soldiers back in February and hopefully throw a party with everyone together.


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