Master Sgt. Reginald Holmes of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning hadn’t boarded his bus to catch a plane at Lawson Army Airfield but his 18-year-old daughter, Briana, already was missing him.
“I’m ready for March for him to get here again,” Briana said.
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Briana, her 8-year-old brother Cameron and mother Sonja Holmes stood in the parking lot of the Kelley Hill Recreation Center with other family members Wednesday to say goodbye to 300 soldiers deploying to Kuwait. This week, about half of the brigade with about 4,000 soldiers will depart for a nine-month deployment.
For the Holmes family, it is the fourth deployment. “It’s always agonizing trying to figure out when he’s coming home,” Briana said of her father.
Col. Johnnie L. Johnson, commander of the “Sledgehammer Brigade,” is scheduled to leave this weekend. The soldiers have prepared for the deployment with training over the last year, he said. “Now we finally get a chance to do what we are trained to do,” Johnson said early Wednesday as he left a change of command ceremony for Maj. Gen. Robert Brown. “I’m eager to get it going.”
The troops will be using pre-positioned equipment already in Kuwait, the commander said.
Cameron said it’s kind of sad sometimes when his father is deployed.
“He is trying hard,” he said. “He is trying to protect the world.”
Mary Beslagic flew in from Washington state to see her son, Pfc. Andrew Rada, off for his first deployment.
“I had to give some guidance on some things to do,” she said. “As a young soldier, this is the prime time for him to get deployment out of the way.”
Beslagic said the mission comes first but Rada will have time to take care of himself and do some smart things. “He will be able to get some college education out to the way,” said Beslagic, whose husband also is in the Army. “We really hope he takes advantage of that, takes care of himself, comes back more financially secure and have some education under his belt.”
Some soldiers seem eager for the deployment.
Pfc. Cody Keyl, a native of Indiana, is leaving his girlfriend, but said he will contact her whenever he can.
“I feel it’s going to be a good experience in a different place,” said Keyl, 22.
1st Lt. Bandon Bragg said his unit was excited about the deployment. “We are excited as a unit to get over there and train,” he said. “We came a long way to train with the Kuwaitis.”
Bragg’s said the biggest concern is being away from his wife Dani and 3-year-old daughter Bella. “It’s a great opportunity to train but you have to think about the fact that guys leave their families for a period of time,” he said. “It’s hard. There is a lot of sacrifice to be made but it’s all worth it.”
Bragg said he started saying goodbye weeks ago but the final one was Wednesday. “Today it was really difficult to say your final goodbye this morning,” he said.
For some families, deployments and saying goodbye are all they know, said Sonja Holmes, a teacher at Key Elementary School.
“It’s bittersweet but we are prepared,” she said. “This is the day. That is all we know. This is our life. We just have to step up to the plate a tad more.”