SALT LAKE CITY -- Hundreds of members of the Army Reserve are saying goodbye to family and friends as the soldiers begin a deployment that will take them to Iraq for one year.
More than 340 soldiers from the 96th Sustainment Brigade will fulfill a mission to facilitate the evacuation of U.S. troops in Iraq. Two groups of solider from the unit left early Wednesday morning. The third group will leave Wednesday afternoon.
For many of the soldiers who gathered at Fort Douglas to say their goodbyes, this is their second or third deployment overseas. But saying goodbye doesn't get any easier.
Staff Sgt. Paul Keel said, "I left my little girl at home so she wouldn't see me cry."
Saying goodbye is tough, even for soldiers who have done it before. Staff Sgt. Nate Bartschi said, "I didn't realize how hard it was going to be. My last deployment, I didn't have two kids. Now I've got two kids and it's painful, very painful."
"It's tough. It's very tough. This is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, leave these little kids behind," he added.
The soldiers from the 96th Sustainment Brigade will first fly to Fort Hood, Texas for more mobilization training. Then they will head to Iraq where they will supply U.S. forces with food, water, and other necessities while helping to organize the evacuation of more than 130,000 U.S. forces and tens of thousands of civilian contractors.
Staff Sgt. Keel explained, "Our mission is to go over there, finish the job and get it done right, and to leave a good impression."
About half of the soldiers who make up the newly-formed brigade are specialists from around the country. The other half is from Utah.
Jake Hardee is a medic from Orem who recently got married.
"Actually last week we told our parents we were getting married, and so we did four days ago. We went to Park City for a few days and now we're here," he said.
Maj. Sivale Michalke is a human resources specialist from Sandy. Her sendoff Wednesday included her two types of family. "I do have a military family, besides my own family. I also have a UPS family. So I have been blessed to have the support through both careers," she said.
Staff Sgt. Bartschi traveled a little bit farther for his sendoff Wednesday. He, his wife and two young children left Preston, Idaho at 3 a.m. to get to Fort Douglas on time. He says saying goodbye was harder than he imagined, but knowing his wife was there to support him made it a little easier. "Behind every great soldier is a better wife," he said.
The final group of the brigade will depart from Fort Douglas at 2:45 p.m. It will be the largest of the three groups to leave, with about 130 soldiers.