Guard members leave Utah
SALT LAKE CITY - Nearly 150 Utah soldiers left Salt Lake City Wednesday morning, bound for their Afghanistan deployment. They departed amidst a ceremony marked by equal parts sadness, patriotism and pride.
The soldiers were with the Utah National Guard's 624th Engineer Company, 204th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade. The unit included troops from Castle Country, as well as the Uintah Basin, Richfield and other communities around the state. The unit is based in Springville.
They will train in Ft. Bliss Texas before going to Afghanistan. There, the troops will help in construction of buildings and other structures in the U.S. Central Command area as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Wednesday's departure ceremonies were held in a hangar at the Utah Air National Guard base in Salt Lake City. Thousands of family members and friends came to wish their soldiers farewell and safe journeys.
Service members hugged their loved ones and children and spouses wept and clutched one another as the reality of the year-long deployment set in.
Norval and Delores Jones of Bear Lake came to see their grandson, Capt. Christopher Vernon, off. It was Vernon's first deployment, they said.
"That's one good bunch of kids," Norval Jones said of the 624th. "It's too bad we have to send them so far away."
Sgt. Brett Harris of Roosevelt spent the time before the ceremony began playing with his children, Emma, 3, and Gavin, 8, and spending time with his wife, Pat. He said his family was handling the deployment as well as could be expected in such a situation.
"This isn't her first rodeo," Harris said of Pat.
Harris has deployed twice before, both times to Iraq.
Some of the soldiers, like Harris, had deployed previously, but this was the first deployment for the 624th as a unit, said Lt. Col. Hank McIntire, public affairs officer for the Utah Army National Guard.
After a series of short speeches from commanders such as Brig. Gen. Brian Tarbet, and a closing prayer by the chaplain, soldiers had a few minutes to spend saying goodbye to their families.
Then they went to the tarmac, reported for duty, and boarded their chartered airplanes, their families separated from them by a rope line. From there, waving to each other was the best they could do.
The planes left into the blue sky, leaving the families behind to wait for a year for the planes to bring their soldiers back.