Tears filled 9-year-old Jaxson Wright’s eyes as he hugged his mother’s waist inside the Midlands’ Eagle Aviation hangar Sunday morning.
Jaxson’s father, Spc. Justin Wright, was one of about 140 soldiers who deployed Sunday with the S.C. National Guard’s 742nd Support Maintenance Company.
“Right now, we’re just a little anxious,” Sheila Wright said of her husband’s first deployment. “This is our first time apart, really, in 13 years. I’m lucky I’m a teacher, so I have that to kind of keep me occupied. I have little hearts around me all the time.”
There were tearful embraces, kisses and picture-taking throughout the hangar Sunday as soldiers said goodbye to their loved ones before boarding a plane to their training station in Texas. From there, they will head to Eastern Europe, with the deployment and mobilization lasting about a year.
Pfc. Gabriel Edwards, 19, had more than 30 family members at Sunday’s ceremony, all of them wearing T-shirts bearing his picture.
Edwards’ grandmother, Elizabeth O’Neal of Columbia, said coping with her grandson’s absence during the next year will be difficult.
“He comes to my house every day to visit me and my husband,” she said. “It’s just a routine thing that he does.”
Capt. Kyle Franklin, chaplain for the battalion, offered words of comfort and encouragement to families and children. Many of the soldiers who left Sunday are leaving home, and their families, for the first time.
“What I’m trying to reiterate and get them to focus on is the things they’re going to experience – a new culture, different food, different people,” he said. “It’s exciting. I want them to be excited about it.”
Pfc. Zachary Jones was excited about the new experiences his first deployment offers.
“I’ve actually never been out of the country, and definitely not Europe,” he said. “I’m excited to get over and do my job.”
The company is participating in Operation Atlantic Resolve, a joint exercise with Eastern European countries that began in 2014 in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
“You are going to provide an offset to our No. 1 concern right now, and that’s Russian aggression into Eastern Europe,” Army Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston Jr., adjutant general for South Carolina, told the soldiers during a ceremony that included remarks from Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson.
“You are there, once again, drawing a line in the sand,” Livingston said. “What we hope and pray for ourselves and our children, is that line in the sand will then result in discussions, and then we can resolve our issues.”
Sunday marked the third deployment for Sgt. 1st Class Robert Wilson of Georgetown, who has spent 30 years with the National Guard. “I’ve never been to Poland, Romania – it’s all new,” he said, surrounded by his wife, four children and mother-in-law. “The last two times I was in a war zone. This time should be a vacation.”