WEST JORDAN, Utah — About 300 members of the Utah Army National Guard left Thursday on what will eventually be a deployment to Afghanistan.
They're all part of the 1st Attack/Reconnaissance Battalion, 211th Aviation Regiment.
The battalion, comprised of three companies of AH-64 Apache helicopters, is slotted to augment 4th Infantry Division’s Combat Aviation Brigade as a part of Task Force Ivy Eagle.
They left from the Army Aviation Support Facility in West Jordan for a flight to Fort Hood, Texas, their first stop before the official deployment.
Many of these soldiers are leaving behind young families for 12 long months.
They all understand the rules of engagement and deployment but it doesn’t make parting any easier, especially in the middle of a worldwide pandemic.
“It’s definitely challenging to prepare to leave the family," said Chief Warrant Officer Joseph Starr.
The first wave of Apache attack helicopters got into formation while family members remained outside, close to the tarmac and waved goodbye.
“Take it one day at a time, you know?" said Jessica Berry, wife of chief warrant officer David Berry. "It doesn’t feel real yet.”
Typically, loved ones would gather together inside a hanger but Army officials decided to have this happen outside and attempt to maintain safe, social distancing.
“Making sure to try and keep at least 6 feet away," said Major Jeffrey Harris. "And in a situation like this, where usually you want to be able to hug and be able to do a send off that leaves you with good memories we’ve had to input the distancing.”
But the real distance, and time, roughly halfway around the world for a full year, is what was on everyone’s mind.
“I knew this deployment was coming and we’ve been preparing as a family, " said Mandy Starr, wife of chief warrant officer, Joseph Starr. "We’re a strong family unit and I am proud to be an Army wife and proud to support him with his mission overseas.”
“Good to know you have a good spouse at home, someone to take care of the kids and you know good family support is always a good thing and we live in a great state," said Chief Warrant Officer David Berry.
The soldiers will undergo the last portion of their training and qualifications at Fort Hood before heading overseas.
“To provide two main missions," Major Harris said. "Reconnaissance and also attack capabilities."
They will ultimately wind up in the Centcom area of operations in support of Freedom Sentinel.