MAYAGUEZ, Puerto Rico –
Soldiers, family and friends gathered to bid farewell to approximately 45 U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers from the 246th Quartermaster Company (QM Co.) (Mortuary Affairs) on September 25, at the U.S. Army Reserve Center in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.
Soon, the unit will travel to their mobilization station in Texas for further training before heading to the Middle East. Once in the theater, they will perform duties relating to deceased personnel, including recovery, evacuation and establishment of tentative identification. It is a duty that they perform with the utmost dignity and respect for the fallen.
"I feel very confident that we will fulfill our mission successfully," said Capt. Armando Pantoja, commander of the 246th QM Co. "We have had a lot of hard training over the past year and I know we are prepared to fulfill our duty with the dignity and respect it deserves.”
Mrs. Marta Arroyo Laza, mother of Pantoja, expressed how proud she is of her son. "I'm very proud of my son and I am very happy for him even though I will miss him," Laza said. "I'm sad but I know he will succeed. If he succeeds, then that is my happiness.” This is not the first time Pantoja has mobilized and his mother said the first time was much harder for her.
For many soldiers, this will be their first deployment but for Sgt. Nathaniel Rivera, this will be his second with the 246th QM Co. His first deployment was in 2012.
"It's really an honor to be a part of the 246th and deploy with them again," said Rivera. "I know I'll be a great asset for those who are deploying for the first time. Deployments are always difficult for a family but we are here to provide a service to those who gave 100% and more. "
Rivera was accompanied by his father-in-law Heriberto Cardona Perez. “It is an honor for him and for us as family members to know that one of our own is serving for a cause that we all believe in,” said Perez. "We will be physically apart but emotionally, we will always be together. We know he will return just like everyone else.”
Spec. Valerie Velez expressed how she is excited yet anxious about her first deployment. “As the time gets nearer, I get more anxious, but overall I'm excited to see how the whole process will be," said Velez. "We have done a lot of thorough training and I feel prepared.”
"I have many mixed emotions," said Velez’ mother, Yessica Casiano Lopez. "I feel happy for her yet I do not want her leave but I am very proud of my daughter."
Velez’s sister, Joann Kimberly, also has mixed emotions. "My emotions are always mixed," said a teary-eyed Joann. "I feel happy because she wants to go and I am very proud of her; but I feel sad because I do not want her to leave. We are only ten months apart so we are always together. This will be the longest we have been apart."
During the ceremony, several Soldiers were promoted from specialist to sergeant and they all expressed how proud they were of their leadership and their accomplishments. Among the promoted is the company 1st Sgt., Master Sgt. Ronald Garcia.
“Honestly, I am very happy and excited,” said Garcia. “First of all for my recent promotion. Secondly, because I have been with this unit ever since I joined the Reserve and it is a tremendous honor for me to be the 1st Sgt. of this company. To lead these Soldiers into a theater of operations, that means the world to me.”
Garcia was accompanied by his parents and he advised them to remain optimistic during his deployment. “They have to be optimistic. We know our job and our mission very well,” said Garcia.
To his Soldiers, he urges them to have faith in their leadership. “We have the best NCOs and officers. If we all just listen and follow the lead of our leadership, we will all do very well during this deployment.”
The ceremony ended with the families and Soldiers sharing hugs and kisses. These Soldiers will be mobilized for approximately six months. Two other detachments from the 246th will follow as replacements for detachment one over the next year and a half. They will be spread out around the Middle East in Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and Jordan.