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Ypsilanti — Hesse Sambaah from Temperance proudly wore her uniform and stood beside her family Saturday morning, hugging them before departing on a year-long army mission.

"I miss her already," her mother Marikim Sambaah said. "We share time and will stay here with her until she has to go."

Sambaah, an Eastern Michigan University nursing student, was one of 68 celebrated Saturday at a deployment departure ceremony for the Michigan Army National Guard 1171'st medical company unit.

"I came across this program and military life has always been in my family," said Sambaah, 23. "I thought it would be good traveling experience and helping others."

After bidding farewell to their families, troops loaded onto buses bound for Fort Hood military base in Killeen, Texas. There, they will train for a month to deploy to Poland for a year as part of the Atlantic Resolve, an ongoing protection effort in response to Russia's actions in Ukraine, mainly the War in Donbass. 

"They are part of real-world medical support for 6,000 troops in Poland," Sgt. 1st Class Helen Miller said.

"Today, when they get on the buses and say goodbye, they're approximately 10-12 months away from see their families," she said. 

Sambaah and Benjamin Pharis were two of four EMU students selected to join the unit. Pharis, who attended Baker College before studying business at EMU, said while it's difficult leaving his family in Harrison Township, he's proud to serve.

"I didn't dream of serving, but as I grew up, a group of guys I always hung out with were joining various branches and were coming up through the ranks and I thought this was the best way to serve our nation," the 28-year-old said. "Certainly, leaving family is the hardest part, especially for me."

"These soldiers are who we like to call one weekend a month," Miller said. "They aren't full time or active duty. They have other jobs, they might be college students and only a small group make up doctors or nurses and others have other professions and take care of their families."

They are all under the command of Capt. Andrea Kennedy, who has been serving for more than 10 years and will lead the team through their mission in Poland.

"When I was studying at Michigan State University, I knew I wanted to serve and joined their ROTC program there," said the Kalamazoo resident. "This mission provides a unique experience for myself and others to work in a lot of different areas."

Former Detroit Lions quarterback Eric Hipple honored the National Guard unit at the Saturday ceremony, saying "a support system is an important piece of the puzzle."

"What a commitment you have made to be away to support our country is also a commitment your family has made to support you and sometimes that can be painful," said Hipple, who spoke on the importance of mental health. "It's normal to feel that longing for home and to feel... homesick, but that's OK... The mentally fit thing to do is to talk to someone and do it early and do it often.

"... I can tell you that when you return, the Detroit Lions will be headed to the playoffs," he joked.

srahal@detroitnews.com
Twitter: @SarahRahal_

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