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. Operation Spartan Shield strengthens defense relationships and builds partner capacity.

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 area of responsibility, which includes parts of the Middle East, Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf, Horn of Africa and parts of the Indian Ocean.

Vermont National Guard spokesperson Capt. Mike Arcovitch said he can't say exactly where the soldiers will be serving and they will not all be serving in the same location.