CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire National Guard members, who have helped manage food banks and administer COVID-19 tests and vaccines during the pandemic, are preparing for at least a nine-month deployment to the Middle East in support of Operation Spartan Shield.

“We cannot thank you enough,” Gov. Chris Sununu said Monday in a ceremony for 118 members of Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, the 172nd Infantry (Mountain).

Masked guard members were socially distanced and seated in Milford, while Sununu and New Hampshire’s congressional delegation spoke from other places during the online ceremony.

Guard members had been sent to Washington following the Jan. 6 siege at the U.S. Capitol to remain for the presidential inauguration.

“I felt safer with your presence, and I’m very grateful as you helped us to ensure the peaceful transition of power for this country,” Congresswoman Annie Kuster said. She was evacuated from the U.S. House chamber while wearing an emergency gas mask on Jan. 6.

About 350 soldiers from the Vermont Army National Guard, as well as soldiers from Connecticut and Colorado also are deploying to multiple locations across the U.S. Central Command.

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