LYNCHBURG, Va (WFXR) — In Lynchburg, hundreds of service men and women from the Virginia National Guard gathered for the first time since they returned from deployment in September of 2022. They were a part of “Task Force Red Dragon,” the largest Virginia National Guard single-unit mobilization since World War II.

There were 270 soldiers awarded a governor’s medal by Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin for their nine-month deployment in Africa this Saturday.

“Task Force Red Dragon” was deployed under the command of the Lynchburg-based 1st battalion. Commander Jim Tierney says it’s incredible to have the chance to honor those who served.

“To see the soldiers back here, to recognize the outstanding contributions — it’s hard to put your life on hold for nine months, but our soldiers did that in support of the country, and they continue to do that time and time again,” said Col. Tierney

Col. Tierney says “Task Force Red Dragon” was heavily focused on security and crisis response.

“Conducted security operations, protecting critical infrastructure, bases, and other military facilities there in support of our national objectives,” said Col. Tierney.

Staff Sergeant Stephanie Ashwell says being a part of the largest Virginia National Guard mobilization since World War II is close to her heart.

“My great uncle actually was the last person in my family who deployed at that time, with the same division and same battalion as well,” said Ashwell.

Tierney and Ashwell described their fellow soldiers as family and emphasized the importance of leaning on each other.

“We had to create a new common understanding of what normal was for us, we all got thrown into this big challenge together,” said Col. Tierney.

“They will always be my brothers and sisters. I think there’s no other way to describe it. We fight and argue like brothers and sisters, but I would also give my life for them,” said Ashwell.

Governor Youngkin was there to thank the soldiers and acknowledged the sacrifices they made for their country.

“You missed birthdays, you missed parent-teacher meetings, you missed basketball games, precious time with your parents, your family, spouses, sons, daughters, and you did so willingly because when our country called, you answered,” said Governor Youngkin.

Honored soldier Alton Steurifen says the Commonwealth support means everything.

“It means a lot to know that the Commonwealth appreciates our sacrifice, along with our family’s,” said Steurifen.

After the medal ceremony, they also conducted their “Yellow Ribbon Program,” which helps soldiers and families with reintegration and offers resources both before and after deployment.