NORMAL — A relatively new Illinois National Guard unit based in Normal will serve in the Horn of Africa after a deployment ceremony Saturday at Heartland Community College.
Approximately 200 members of the 404th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade will deploy on a 10-month mission and serve alongside U.S. Navy and Air Force units, in conjunction with French and D other coalition members because they offer a variety of roles in securing U.S. interests in Djibouti, a country strategically located on the northeast coast of Africa.
Located on the Bab el Mandeb Strait, the region is a major transport hub on the Horn of Africa and is home to a US Navy base.
The 404th MEB is made up of several specialties, ranging from tactical planning and engineering to air defense, public affairs and even helping to maintain the health and well-being of local civilians, said the Lieutenant-Colonel Justin Towell, commander of the 404th MEB.
The unit brings together several specialties needed to protect U.S. interests in the face of terrorism and civil unrest or to help regular army units maintain peace after armed conflict, said Rich Neely, adjutant general of the National Guard of Illinois.
Neely said the 404th MEB grew out of lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It’s a new concept,” he said.
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“The Army really looked at how they maneuvered into this member-enhanced brigade concept.”
“What’s unique about this mission is command and control. It’s a senior staff that works down to make sure that all the services in this joint task force are represented.
sergeant. Paul Bond of Normal, a member of the 404th MEB, said he had worked for about a year preparing the brigade for deployment.
Bond, a unit operations training non-commissioned officer, was tasked with ensuring that citizen soldiers were ready to perform basic military operations, if called upon. That training included pre-deployments at Camp Dodge Joint Maneuver Training Center in Johnston, Iowa, and Marseilles, Illinois Training Center, he said.
“You want to build and bring everyone together to form a cohesive unit,” he said.
Saturday’s deployment ceremony was not typical of many Illinois Guard ceremonies in the past.
Family members, who form an important part of the unit’s support structure, had to stay home and watch the proceedings on a Facebook video feed, for fear of the spread of COVID-19 to the guards.
Everyone present at the event wore masks.
“We even had to get permission from the military to hold the deployment ceremony,” said Lt. Col. Brad Leighton, public affairs spokesman for the Illinois National Guard.