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Fort Stewart soldiers deploy to Ukraine on Valentines Day
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Megan Lawrence kisses her husband, Sgt. Cody Lawrence, as his fellow soldiers prepare to board a bus on Fort Stewart on Sunday morning. The bus took them to Hunter Army Airfield, and they flew to Ukraine from there. - photo by Photo by Cailtin Kenney

While many couples across the Coastal Empire were together on Valentine’s Day, several military couples from Fort Stewart had to say their goodbyes as soldiers were deployed to Ukraine.

Around 200 soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, were deployed to support Joint Multinational Training Group Ukraine under U.S. Army Europe and will be there for 10 months.

Lt. Col. Nathan Minami, battalion commander of 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, said the deployment is “a training mission to assist the Ukrainian army with enhancing their training capacity and to help enhance their ability to defend their country.”

The battalion had originally planned to conduct train in Africa, but Minami said this mission is not very different from what the unit had already trained for. Rather, he said, it will just be to a different part of the world.

The battalion is supporting the JMTG-U program, Fearless Guardian II, a rotational training program that is partnering with several Ukrainian battalions from the battalion level and below, according to the program’s website.

“So we’re primarily focused on defensive operations,” Minami said. “So everything from the individual (soldiers’ skills), to how to employ our weapon, how to employ different types of individual techniques, all the way up through collective level training up to the battalion level.”

On the cold Sunday morning, soldiers and family members gathered at the 3-15 unit area, with green and camouflage bags piled in the parking lot, waiting for their trip across the world.

Sgt. John McInnes, a squad leader for a mortars platoon, said he was ready to get on the plane and to go do his job.

He will teach Ukrainian soldiers basic mortar skills.

“I’m excited. I think it will be a good opportunity to meet a lot of new people, especially from a different country,” he said. “And work closely with a lot of our allies and learn how they do things as well.”

This will be McInnes’ first deployment, vastly different from the combat missions Marne soldiers have been deployed to for more than a decade.

“Just understand that it might not be a combat deployment, but it is extremely important what we are doing to boost the effectiveness of both us and our allies,” McInnes said, explaining why the unit was going to Europe.

“And like I said, a cohesion between us, it’s important in peacetime just as much as wartime,” he added.

Shannon Frymyer, 25, was at the unit area to say goodbye to her husband, Sgt. Dean Frymyer.

“Definitely not the Valentine’s Day I would have hoped for. But this is not something we haven’t done before; it’s expected at this point,” she said. “It’s just kind of tough to go through it on such a day that’s supposed to be celebrated.”

She said that as a military spouse, she tries to take it one day, and assignment, at a time.

“I mean, we just kind of try to live as normally as possible with each other in between the times that he’s gone,” Frymyer said.

She said she was proud of what he was doing and was not worried about his safety, but would miss him during the deployment.

When asked what she would like to say to him, Frymyer said, trying to hold back tears, “That I love him.”

They will have been married for four years in May.

Minami said the families of the soldiers who deployed are one of the battalion’s strengths.

“Our soldiers are great Americans, definitely great servants of our nation, but I think our families even more so deserve that credit as well,” he said. “The families of our soldiers are extremely supportive.”

After the bags were loaded onto trucks, Frymyer hugged and kissed her husband one last time before watching him board the bus that would take him to his plane at the Truscott Air Terminal at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah.

Several organizations and volunteers were on hand at the terminal to pass out food and drinks to the soldiers as they waited for their flight.

Capt. Leslie McBride, the forward support commander of Gulf Company, 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, said her company is deploying to make sure the soldiers have everything they need for their training mission, including food, water and maintenance equipment.

This is not McBride’s first deployment, but partnering with Ukrainian forces makes it stand out.

“It’s really unique because we get to train with and alongside of the Ukrainian forces,” she said. “And they have a lot of experience with their recent conflicts, so they have a lot of good lessons for us to learn. And we also get to work with them and give them some lessons that we have.”

Getting the supplies will be a challenge and the soldiers will work with different customs, but McBride said it was a good opportunity to build relationships with European countries.

“I’m very excited to learn their culture and to interact with their people, but mainly what I would like to take away from it is all of their lessons learned,” McBride said. “And take it, bring it back and incorporate it into things that I do with my company and training that I do — to basically make my unit the best it can be.”

After a few hours in the terminal, the soldiers finally were prepared to start their journey to Ukraine.

In several groups, the soldiers made their away across the tarmac and up the plane’s stairs as a chilly wind blew the American flags that were positioned on either side of the steps.

By Monday, 3-15 had arrived in Ukraine, according to U.S. Army Europe. They are expected to begin the training rotation by March 1, according to a U.S. Army Europe press release on the program.

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