A morale event at the Florida National Guard Armory on Airport Road offers an evening of camaraderie for deploying soldiers.
As soft tunes drifted out of a set of speakers constructed near the pop up bar at the armory in Plant City, approximately 30 National Guard mingled with spouses, children and significant others as they counted down the days until deployment.
The deployment dinner was the first morale event in 2018 for the Family Readiness Group, an official command-sponsored organization of family members, volunteers and soldiers belonging to a unit that provides assistance and community resources to military families. FRG typically will have two morale events each year when not in deployment status and upwards of four events if deployed.
Deann Marasco, a coordinator for FGR, and her husband 1st Sgt. Patrick Marasco, are no
strangers to saying goodbye. This is his third tour overseas and they said it never gets easier as each deployment comes and goes, hence their involvement with FGR.
“I do this because I don't ever want any of them to feel alone,” Deann Marasco said. “I want them to know they have resources and the support they need because we are one family.”
Alpha Battery 3DBN116FA (HINARS) will deploy to Afghanistan in the spring for one year with approximately nine months of boots on the ground. Those deployed come from all over the state of Florida, with those in attendance ranging from Miami-Dade to Hillsborough and Polk County.
Deann Marasco said the morale events are essential because most of those involved are not active duty, but rather volunteer positions. These men and women live normal lives, have civilian jobs and then when they are called they drop everything and go.
She said unlike many active duty operations where abundant support groups and options are available 24/7, they are relatively alone. These events allow the soldiers to get to know the spouses and loved ones of those they are serving with, which increases conviviality and offers a support system for those left behind.
Members of the Elks Lodge of Plant City volunteered at the event and informed attendees of the group’s Army of Hope Project, which provides financial assistance to families of those deployed and returning military members. Since 2007, the Florida Army of Hope has distributed more than $290,000 to those in need.
Last month, the Plant City Elks provided support to families of this unit that were in “dire need” with a $4,000 donation. Though the details cannot be publicized, Deanne Marasco said the donation allowed the spouse of the soldier in need to breathe during their time of hardship.
“I’ve heard you say we’re all family and I want the Elks to be a little part of your family, too,” Elks Lodge Veterans Chairman Judy Wise said to the group. “We’re here for you. If you ever need anything just ask.”
Sgt. Jonathan Corwin joined in the National Guard when he was 17 years old and still in high school. While part of the decision had to do with the college benefits, he said his main reason for
enlisting was as a response to 9/11.
“I actually enlisted the day we invaded Iraq,” Corwin said. “It meant a lot to me, obviously that step from 9/11 and that time frame. That was one of the reasons why I was so compelled to join.”
This will be Corwin’s fourth deployment, however, this is the first time he will answer the call since getting married in June.
As the evening drew to a close a game of frisbee broke out between a handful of soldiers, dessert was polished off and family members exchanged contact information to keep in touch during the deployment. A quiet sense of camaraderie filled the hall. Wise handed out Army of Hope pamphlets and shook the hands of every soldier she spoke to.
“I just keep looking at these guys and thinking ‘Please God bring them back,’” Wise said. “Afghanistan is still a dangerous place and we just love them all so much.”