PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – When Russia invaded Ukraine, Ukrainian fighters were prepared in part because of the Florida Army National Guard’s 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat team, also known as Task Force Gator.

The 165-member team first arrived in Ukraine in November 2021 to train soldiers there.

“One hundred and sixty-five outstanding soldiers doing what they were trained to do, being where they were meant to be, helping who they were meant to help,” said Col. Jerry Blake Glass, the unit’s commander.

It was part of the Joint Multinational Training Group, which has had a presence in Ukraine since 2014.

“It didn’t get hot over there until after 53rd got there which was a little bit distressing to say the least,” said Jim Glass, father of Col. Glass.

The team evacuated in February due to the Russian invasion and, in April, began training allies and partners in surrounding nations to continue to assist Ukraine.

“I think everybody has a purpose in life. I think we have a purpose, just the right place at the right time,” said Col. Glass. “The armed forces of Ukraine are a great fighting force. They’ve become our friends. It’s just been really rewarding to help them.”

After spending two weeks at Fort Bliss in Texas, Col. Glass and the other remaining 112 Soldiers arrived to the U.S. Army Reserve Command in Clearwater Thursday.

“We’re very happy to be home. But we still grieve for them and what they’re going through and wish them the best of success,” said Col. Glass.

The Army Reserve Aviation Facility Hanger was full of reunions Thursday between families, friends and fellow Soldiers.

Col. Glass’ family getting their first glimpse at him

Col. Glass reconnected with his wife, two young sons, aged 7 and 2, and his parents.

“It’s hard to explain the excitement that we have every time he comes home from a deployment. It’s beyond words,” said Faye Glass, his mother.

The unit is on a six-year deployment rotation so it will remain home in Florida for the next few years. It can, however, respond to state emergencies across Florida.