The Michigan National Guard held a departure ceremony this morning at Fort Custer near Battle Creek, honoring fifteen soldiers who are preparing to deploy to Liberia later this month.
For Robert Rivera, a National Guardsman from Lansing, this means, for the third time since 2005, he'll have to say goodbye to his family for at least a year.
"Oh yeah I'm going to miss both [family members]. My family, definitely going to miss them, that's the hardest thing," Rivera said.
Rivera was one of just fifteen Michigan National Guardsman specially chosen for Operation Observant Liberty in Liberia.
"They've been hand-picked for this mission based on what they do. Each individual brings a special skill to this team," said Patrick Mayabb, the Officer-in-Charge, or OIC of the mission.
Mayabb says the Michigan National Guardsmen will deploy to Libera not, for combat, but to be ambassadors.
"They've formed a new military since their war, their civil war. We're there to help advise them and basically be a military similar to our own."
Mayabb says even a non-combat mission isn't without its risk.
"Instead of bullets and grenades it's airborne diseases and malaria that we really have to be careful about," Mayabb said.
Despite the possible danger, Rivera is ready for the challenges this unique mission poses.
"We're building a relationship. Everyone thinks, you know, the military is for a combat role, but we can also support, we can also teach," said Rivera.
Even with two deployments already under his belt, the separation doesn't get any easier for Rivera and his wife and daughter.
"I don't think so, we'll never get used to him leaving," said Catherine, Rivera's wife.
She says she and their daughter Rea will keep Rivera with them, even when he's away.
"Even though he's not here, his spirit's always with us. He's included in everything we do on a daily basis, my daughter and myself," said Catherine.
Rivera, along with the fourteen other soldiers will head to Fort Benning, Georgia, sometime within the next few days, and will deploy to Liberia from there.
2820 East Saginaw Street, Lansing, MI 48912