East TN soldiers leave for Afghanistan deployment

Update: 9 a.m. Saturday:

Eighty mechanics and pilots with the Tennessee National Guard took off from the air base at McGhee Tyson Airport Saturday morning.

The Kiowa helicopters with the 1-230th Air Calvary Squadron flew out just before 9 a.m. after weather delayed takeoff. The unit was set to fly out around 8 a.m. but snow flakes and strong winds pushed the takeoff back by about an hour.

They will train first at a base stateside and are set to be in Afghanistan by April.

Friday night they said goodbye to their families.

Original Story:

An East Tennessee National Guard unit is preparing for war. Eighty members of the 1-230th Air Cavalry Squadron are scheduled to leave Saturday morning for a year-long deployment to Afghanistan.

The unit, based out of the Air National Guard Base at McGhee Tyson Airport, will train first at a base stateside and will be in Afghanistan by April. They will take with them 15 Kiowa Warrior helicopters.

READ MORE: Service & Sacrifice: A 5th combat tour facing soldier and family

Friday afternoon, the 36 pilots and 44 mechanics, said their goodbyes to their families with a barbecue on base.

For the Campbell family, this is the 7th time they have seen their dad, Chief Chief Warrant Officer 3 Chris Campbell, deploy.

"It never gets easier," said Campbell's wife, Kim. Friday afternoon, the 52-year-old pilot loaded his toddler granddaughter into his helicopter. She doesn't understand what her grandfather's deployment means.

"She calls it a robot. She likes to get in there and put on the seat belt and flip the switches so we let her," Campbell said.

But at the barbecue, there were many family members who do understand what a year away from their loved ones is like.

More than 60% of the soldiers in the squadron have deployed before.

For months these soldiers have prepared themselves mentally and physically for life at war. But they say it's never easy knowing they will have to miss major milestones.

"My wife and I just found out yesterday that we're 6 weeks and 2 days into a new pregnancy. The baby will be due in September and I'm still scheduled to be deployed at that time," said Sgt. 1st Class Edward Smith.

Thanks to technology, they may be able to see their children on programs like Skype. But they are not certain they will have internet access in Afghanistan.

"My 5-year-old little girl is having a hard time understanding why we won't be able talk every day," said Smith.

To these soldiers, sacrifice is part of the job.

"We're an all voluntary Army so when we sign up, this is what we train to do is to fight. I'm excited to actually perform my mission in a combat zone," said 1st Lt. Mandie Morgan.

"What is it that drives them to do this?" said Col. Melvin Clawson, "It's the desire to serve something bigger than yourself, your country, your community."

For Kim Campbell, she can't talk about her husband without crying. But she is proud of what he does and his commitment to our country.

"We'll be looking forward to the day we get to come back," Campbell said.


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