SALT LAKE CITY — More than 120 Utah Army National Guard soldiers said goodbye to their families Monday, feeling both the pain of separation and a desire to serve their country.
The members of the 65th Field Artillery Brigade left Monday in preparation for a yearlong deployment to the Middle East. The unit will support efforts in Southwest Asia to strengthen relationships in the region.
Despite the dignity of the unit's charge, saying goodbye to one's family for such a long time is always difficult, said Capt. Tim Clayson, the brigade's chaplain.
"We try to make this our whole family serving. They have a part to play in this as well. They're sacrificing by having dad away," the father of five explained, holding his teary-eyed young son on his hip. "I don't know if it makes it any easier, but it gives them shared ownership in sacrificing for people that they don't know."
This is Clayson's third overseas deployment during his 28-year military career — with each previous tour also having been a year in duration and each tougher emotionally than the one before, he said.
"It gets harder each time," he said. "You know how difficult it's going to be and it makes those months leading up to it even more agonizing."
However, the agony is overcome by the privilege of fighting for the nation's interests, he noted.
"It is an honor to serve, and we would do it again and again because we love our country," Clayson said.
Prior to boarding the initial flight on their journey, the unit was recognized in a ceremony at Utah Air National Guard's Wright Air Base in Salt Lake City. Hundreds of family members and fellow National Guard members were on hand to offer their support and wish the departing soldiers well.
"The soldiers of the 65th Field Artillery Brigade have planned, prepared and are ready to execute the challenges this upcoming deployment will bring," said Maj. Chamberlin Neff, brigade operations officer. "We are ready to support coalition forces in the Middle East and partnering with countries in the Arabian Gulf."
The brigade will be deploying in support of Operation Spartan Shield, which is tasked with maintaining U.S. military posture in Southwest Asia, as well as to strengthen defensive relationships, build partner capacity, and when necessary, exercise U.S. Central Command contingency plans.
While Clayson had previous involvement in international deployments, others in the brigade contingent were experiencing the emotions of leaving for the very first time.
"I love and miss my family already," said Sgt. Gavin Hansen, a husband and father of two boys, ages 4 and 2. "I just want them to know that even though I'm not here, I am here for them. They are the world to me and I'd do anything to have them in my life."
Having grown up in a military family, Hansen's wife said she has been attempting to prepare their kids for the time they'll be apart from their father.
"I've been reading books to the kids trying to explain that (their dad) is a soldier and he's going away from us to keep us safe," said Terra Hansen. "He's doing it for everybody, not just for us."
Another rookie deploying was staff Sgt. Stephanie Puro, one of only nine women who will be involved in the brigade's assignment. She said she has been anxiously awaiting the opportunity to participate in such an important mission.
"I fulfilled my whole first enlistment without a deployment, so at this point, I'm ready to go and serve and do what I joined to do," she said. "My knowledge base is really strong to help teach my soldiers and make sure they're ready to go.
"Our unit has been training for a year getting ready for this (mission)," Puro said. "At this point, we're all just ready to go test our skills. As soldiers, this is what we do."16 comments on this story
The deploying National Guard members departed on a chartered flight to Fort Bliss, Texas, for additional training prior to deploying to the Middle East.
"We have spent the past year in preparation for this mission and our soldiers are ready to answer our country's call," said Col. Adam Robinson, commander of the 65th Field Artillery Brigade. "We look forward to working with our partner nations thereby widening our perspectives which allows us to integrate equipment, tactics, techniques and procedures which will strengthen our defensive relationships."