Maryland National Guard deployment ceremony recognizes troops bound for Kosovo
By PAT STOETZER | The Carroll County Times | Published: September 16, 2020
WESTMINSTER, Md. (Tribune News Service) — Members of the Maryland Army National Guard’s 29th Military Police Company, based in Westminster, were deployed when soldiers were needed in Afghanistan for the weeks after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Earlier this year, in response to the coronavirus outbreak and the early stages of the pandemic, the company once again reported for duty when Gov. Larry Hogan activated the National Guard for assistance.
Monday afternoon’s Freedom Salute Ceremony at the MG Henry C. Evans Armory marked yet another situation in which the 29th MP Company made its presence known as close to 30 men and women got their orders to report overseas to help with a law enforcement mission in Kosovo.
“Today is a really special day,” said Rob Wille, commander of Maryland’s 115th Military Police Battalion, during the ceremony. “This is definitely a unique deployment. And it has a lot of history in the remaking.”
The 29th was part of the 115th MP Battalion that reported for active duty in 2015 when help was requested in Baltimore following protests in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death. In the next two years, members of the 29th provided a mobilized platoon to support external security at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.
In 2018, approximately 20 soldiers joined the 200th MP Company for a multinational training exercise in Estonia as part of Operation Saber Strike.
More than 100 members of the Westminster unit have served Carroll County, and other parts of the state, during the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve helped at field testing sites, and also with community food distribution areas.
Now, some of those troops are headed to southeastern Europe as part of Operation Joint Guardian Kosovo in direct support of NATO operations.
“I am so, so, so proud of you all,” Brig. Gen. Janeen Birckhead of the Maryland Army National Guard told the unit. “Many times I’ve been asked recently about what you’ve done in COVID operations. And I’ve been so proud to say and list all of your accomplishments there. And then add, ‘And oh by the way, they’re deploying to Kosovo.' That makes me feel so good.”
The unit members stood inside the armory’s gymnasium while family members watched from the side and superiors spoke about the pride they feel in deploying quality soldiers. Birckhead said “mission first, people always” is still a motto the National Guard strives to follow, but she added it could really be described as “people first, and we will not fail.”
The troops are scheduled to leave Tuesday out of BWI International Airport for a 10-month assignment, said Maj. Kurt Rauschenberg, a spokesman for the Maryland National Guard.
Rauschenberg, a 2000 Westminster High graduate, said he joined the National Guard in high school. He was a member of the Westminster unit for eight years so he has first-hand knowledge of its expectations and accomplishments.
“This battalion has always been just the ‘tip-of-the-spear’ type organization,” Rauschenberg said. “They’ve deployed all over the world, frequently. And they’ve always succeeded in their missions. And so this is really no different.”
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Courtney Slaughter, captain of the 29th MP Company, told the group she took command of the unit last year thinking it might be heading for Guantanamo Bay. Slaughter said by December she heard rumors of a possible assignment in Kosovo. She had nine months to prepare her troops, and said she asked for volunteers to help.
Almost everyone in the 29th raised their hands to be away from family and serve the state and nation, Slaughter said.
“I couldn’t have been more proud,” she said during the ceremony. “I thought I would have to force them.”
Being activated during the coronavirus pandemic gave the 29th Military Police Company its share of training. Heading overseas is a different and many times more harrowing experience, Col. Brian Borakove said. But he said he has faith in this unit to get the job done.
“Personally, because I’ve done so many deployments, it truly just really hits home,” said Borakove, who also spoke during the ceremony. “My first son was born on my first [deployment], my daughter was born on my second. What resonates with me is just the sacrifice. And kind of the long days, and the sadness they’re going to have being separated. It’s a new way for them to have to work through things.
“It’s bittersweet, because these soldiers are giving up a lot to go away. But I’ve been to Kosovo and it’s a very rewarding mission. I think they’ll get a lot out of it.”