Ashley Fitzgerald talks with her daughter Makayla Fitzgerald as husband and father SPC David Fitzgerald boards a plane with the 160 soldiers with the Smyrna-based Tennessee Army National Guard 1176th Transportation Company on Sunday. (Helen Comer/The Daily News Journal)
SYMRNA, TENN. — Tears welled in Spc. Jonathan Racine’s eyes as he talked about having to miss the birth of his first-born while he’s serving a year-long tour in Afghanistan.
Racine is one of approximately 160 soldiers with the Smyrna-based Tennessee Army National Guard 1176th Transportation Company who were not deterred by the steady rainfall for the Sunday morning deployment from Sewart Airfield.
“I’m not really scared about anything. I just want to come home and meet my son, Waylon Cash. ... I gotta watch (the birth) on Skype. Our deployment isn’t long enough for me to come home,” said 21-year-old Racine as he leaned down to kiss the pregnant belly of his fiance, Kayla Weaver.
Although this is the first deployment for the 1176th, some of the members of the mission are from the Tennessee National Guard’s 1175th Transportation Company’s Heavy Equipment Tractor unit, which has members from across the state.
“We’re basically headed to Fort Hood, Texas, for our premobilization training today. We’re en route to support Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan,” said Capt. Daniel Isley.
Purpose of the transportation unit’s deployment will be making sure combat forces “get what they need to keep the mission going,” Isley said.
“We’ll probably also be doing retrograde operations,” Isley said.
Although the unit members will be stateside for six weeks before heading overseas, there were a lot of tears from friends and family members who were on hand to say goodbye to their soldiers.
“I cried last night,” said 6-year-old Kayleigh Bolin as she choked back tears in anticipation of the deployment of her father, Tim Bolin. “I already miss my dad.”
Not everybody was tearful, however, a smiling Sgt. Morgan Mochow said she’s “giddy” about her deployment.
“I’m looking forward to doing (this mission). I enjoy my job. I do paperwork for my unit. I take care of my soldiers and I feel like they’re all my kids. It’s a good job to have,” said Mochow, whose mother, grandmother, both daughters and one daughter’s friend were present for the unit’s sendoff.
Alberta Appleberry and her husband, Sgt. Robert Appleberry, were taking “selfies” and laughing before he headed out Sunday morning. The couple met while serving with the Tennessee National Guard in Iraq in 2006 and have been married for seven years. She was on her second tour in Iraq and he was on his first when they met.
“I’m a veteran now, so this isn’t my first rodeo. I don’t like it, but it’s the life of a soldier and a soldier’s wife,” said Alberta Appleberry, who now works in the civilian world.
While the two were laughing as they enjoyed their last moments before deployment, Sgt. Appleberry did share some serious advice for families of deployed soldiers.
“To the spouses and families standing behind them, these guys are going to be 8,000 miles away. There’s things they can’t fix, so don’t stress them with it. Handle it to the best of their ability. Plus, we’ve got a great support program ... that can help you with a lot of things these guys can’t handle while they’re on deployment. So I would advise you, the little-bitty stuff they don’t need to know about, don’t tell them,” Sgt. Appleberry said.
Soldiers boarded a chartered plane for Fort Hood about 10 a.m., with hundreds of onlookers waving flags, holding signs and wiping away tears.
“Right now we have orders that last through April of next year. But as we know, the politics will tell us what really happens,” Capt. Isley said.