SALT LAKE CITY — Sgt. 1st Class Clarke Patterson held his daughter, 4-year-old Aryanna, who was bleary-eyed from staying up all night, spending as much time as she could with her dad.
Patterson and about 30 other members of the Utah National Guard's 142nd Military Intelligence Battalion deployed to Afghanistan early Sunday morning.
"Bottom line is that there are bad people in this world who do bad things, and somebody has to stop them, and that's what an American solider does. We stand up and take care of business. We fight for those who don't fight for themselves or who cannot," LTC Sharam Takmili said.
After a 5 a.m. deployment ceremony at the Salt Lake Readiness Center, the soldiers said goodbye to their loved ones and set off to Fort Hood, Texas, escorted by the Patriot Guard Riders. They will train for two months there before joining forces in Afghanistan for several months.
"It's hard, but I'm proud of him. We're all proud of him," said Patterson's wife, Carrie.
Patterson's daughter took up-close pictures of him as he talked about his love of the Constitution and his country. This will be his third deployment, and he's eager to mentor younger soldiers and pass on what he's learned.
One such soldier is Sgt. Samantha Hansen, 28, of Layton, leaving on her first deployment. Hansen joined the Guard in 2009 to add more adventure to her life. She said she feels a bit nervous but prepared because of all her training.
"It's an amazing experience," she said. "It makes me feel grateful for everything I have every day. It reminds me that not everything is just handed to you."
Hansen echoed the sentiments of Command Sgt. Maj. Bryan Allman, who spoke during the ceremony. He said he was grateful for the soldiers' sacrifice and that they'll do "a fabulous job."
"It's that selfless service that has kept this country free," Allman said. "It's that selfless sacrifice that allows us to go out and serve these other people, to help them enjoy the same freedom that we have."
Brig. Gen. Dallen Atack told the soldiers they should return as better people and keep both themselves and others from becoming isolated — physically, emotionally and spiritually.
He honored the families left behind and told the soldiers to keep in touch with their loved ones, as well as the other members of the battalion, which will be split into four groups.
Staff Sgt. KC Kirkman's parents, wife of 14 years and three young sons were there to support Kirkman as he embarked on his second deployment, his first one with the Army. Before he left, they joked about Texas humidity and posed for a picture.
The boys, ages 7, 8 and 11, wore matching blue Taylorsville football sweatshirts, and one of them held an American flag. Kirkman coaches all of their peewee and flag football teams.
"He's amazing. That's why he's going to be missed so much," said Kirkman's wife, Tina. "During football season our lives are crazy. I think the boys are really going to feel loss because he's their coach and their dad and they analyze all the NFL games and everything."
Tina Kirkman shouted, "Have fun!" as her husband walked to the buses. She called it "his dream come true" and said he's been waiting for this opportunity for almost two decades.
"This is why I joined, to go over, to do whatever I can for the country, my job," he said with a grin.1 comment on this story
His mother, Karen Kirkman of Cottonwood Heights, said her son played army when he was young and is excited to go.
"He keeps saying, 'Mom, you just don't know how great it is to be able to go and do all the things that I've learned.' We're really proud of him," Karen Kirkman said. "I heard somebody say the other day, 'I hate war but I love soldiers,' and that's the way we feel about it."