FORT LAUDERDALE /Florida Newswire/ — Governor Charlie Crist today hailed the courage and sacrifice of the Florida National Guard’s 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team during a deployment ceremony in Fort Lauderdale. The ceremony, honoring the Florida National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment, is the first in a series of company-level and battalion-level deployment ceremonies taking place this week throughout the state. This morning’s event honored 600 of the nearly 2,500 members of the Florida National Guard’s 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team who are being deployed to Kuwait and Iraq, the largest single-unit deployment of Florida National Guard since World War II.

“Our state and country are safer because of the Florida National Guardsmen and women who proudly defend our freedom alongside the rest of our nation’s military at home and overseas,” said Governor Crist. “Their heroism and honor, as well as that of their families, are examples of the remarkable selflessness in Florida’s long and distinguished history of military service.”

In addition to Fort Lauderdale, deployment ceremonies for the Florida National Guard’s 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team are being held this week in Bartow, Bonifay, Cocoa, Eustis, Hollywood, Lake City, Lakeland, Leesburg, Miami, Ocala, Orlando, Panama City, Pensacola, Pinellas Park, Sanford, Tallahassee, West Palm Beach and Winter Haven. The nearly 2,500 soldiers, many of whom already have combat experience, are deploying for a year-long mission in Kuwait and Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. They will be responsible for various security missions, including providing convoy security for coalition forces entering and departing Iraq. Prior to their deployment, the soldiers will receive additional training at Fort Hood, Texas.

The 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team will join the nearly 1,000 Florida National Guard soldiers and airmen federally mobilized in the United States and overseas. Since September 2001, more than 11,000 members of the Florida National Guard have served on federal active duty in support of the ongoing war on terror. Most recently, 432 troops with the 146th Signal Battalion and nearly 70 members of the 256th Medical Company returned home, concluding year-long tours in Iraq.

Governor Crist was joined at today’s ceremony by United States Representative Ron Klein and Major General Douglas Burnett. During his remarks, the Governor expressed his profound gratitude and confidence in Florida’s servicemen and women deployed abroad and at home. He also applauded the families of Florida’s dedicated servicemembers for their selfless contributions to the freedoms enjoyed by all Americans.

The 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team is headquartered in Pinellas Park, with battalions located in Miami, Orlando and Panama City.