Two groups of Soldiers from the 40th Expeditionary Signal Battalion left Fort Huachuca and headed to the Middle East and southeast Asia during two separate deployments on May 1 and Sunday.
Soldiers from Company A said goodbye to their Families and friends at Murr Community Center and boarded a plane May 1 as the first of the two groups to deploy to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
For Spc. Galen Crofut, who has been in the Army almost three years, this is his first deployment. “I am excited. This is the reason I joined the Army. If you are in the Army and you don’t deploy, you just have a nine-to-five job,” Crofut said. His girlfriend, Alyssa Bowman, plans to keep in touch with Crofut through Facebook and Skype. “Actually, we are also going to write letters to each other as well,” Crofut added.
Spc. Ashley Miller, a Chicago native, has been in the Army for four years, and is not nervous about her first deployment. “I’m looking forward to the time to myself,” Miller said. She plans to spend her time outside of work hours going to the gym and watching movies that she has downloaded. Miller said she found a smartphone application that provides a number that allows her to call and text with her Family.
While they waited for their plane, some Soldiers found comfort in the company of other Soldiers as they played cards or a game of pool. Others sent texts or made phone calls back home to their friends or Family. Many hugged their babies or took endless pictures capturing final moments before the Soldiers departed. A few read the Bible with their Families.
Before the departure, Lt. Col. David Thomas, 40th Expeditionary Signal Battalion commander, spoke, first introducing military and Family life counselors on Fort Huachuca, including Mona Rivera.
“We are here to support you. If you need someone to talk to, spouses, children, you are going to go through some changes and we are here,” Rivera said. “We will come and meet you places — you don’t have to come to our office. We are mobile. Those parents who are here in support of your children, we know you may not live in state but feel free to call us if it would be helpful just to have someone to talk to while you are going through this time.”
Speaking to the Soldiers, Thomas said, “You guys are truly ready to deploy and that was shown during the past seven months as you prepared for this deployment. I have all the faith in you, and we know that as you go into Afghanistan you will do an absolutely awesome job. The last thing I will say is to the Soldiers, you have a team, so please take care of the people to the left and right of you … and come home safe.”
Pfc. Matthew Helton, 22, said that he most looks forward to the experience. “I’m ready to go out and do my time, as my Family has. It’s my time to go and see the world. I’m excited, a little nervous, but then the excitement takes over. I’ve been ready ever since they told us we were going.”
When asked what he expects when he gets there, Helton said that he knows it will be different but with his leadership, “I will get the guidance that I need and they will put me in the right direction so I will be fine.”
Morgana Biddix, 40th ESB Family Readiness support assistant, handed out stuffed animals and dolls dressed in battle dress uniforms to children while they waited at Murr.
Following speeches and prayers, the Soldiers spent about two hours with friends and Families before they boarded the buses to Libby Army Airfield at 11:45 a.m.
When they arrived, the Soldiers processed in, drew their weapons and checked their bags. Their plane departed shortly after 4 p.m.
Nine American Legion Riders held America flags creating a path to the bus entrance as Soldiers boarded single file, and then the riders escorted the service members to the airfield.
Except for being much earlier, the Sunday morning departure was not much different. Soldiers, Families and friends packed Murr Community Center. People could be found throughout almost every room of the facility and many passed time on their cell phones and tablets contacting loved ones in other places.
Some of the younger Family members appeared to be sleepy while they waited with their Soldiers before the departure.
Spc. Quinton Burrell, Company C, 40th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, and wife Lakenda had breakfast with their four children in a back room at Murr Community Center. Burrell explained how they had one last family vacation in Phoenix before his deployment.
1st Sgt. Andrew Estes, Company C, 40th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, said this was his fourth deployment. Aside from missing his Family and friends, he said he will miss the showers.
“A regular shower is greater than a field shower,” he explained.
Magali Marcantel, military spouse, said it’s the little things she ends up missing when her husband is deployed.
“The hardest part is going to bed alone, and he’s missing our kids’ activities,” she explained.
Soon, it came time to for the second group to leave. Once again, Thomas spoke to a group of deploying Soldiers.
“To the Families, as we said during the [colors] casing ceremony, I know that it’s probably harder on Families … as the Soldiers deploy, so on behalf of myself, the command sergeant major and the leadership, we want to thank you for everything you do for your Soldier, the battalion and the Army,” Thomas said. “Finally, for the Soldiers, you guys are ready. I know you’re ready.”
Thomas was followed by Col. James Parks, commander of the 11th Theater Tactical Signal Brigade, who said “I’ve had the chance to watch these command teams and these Soldiers for the past six months preparing for their missions and these are absolutely the right Soldiers for theater.”
Chaplain (Capt.) Andrew Calvert, 40th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, explained that a good number of the Soldiers and their Families have never experienced a deployment before. He said they cannot treat their challenges as barriers — they have to use them as steps to get to something better.
Gabriel Vallejo, Military and Family Life counselor, advised those left behind, especially Families experiencing their first deployment, that communication is key.
“There are so many easy ways nowadays to keep in contact with Facebook, Skype, email and text,” Rivera explained. “That’s really important — it provides support to the Soldier but also for the Family because they get information that way. Keep talking, sending those cards, sending those card packages.”