WEST JORDAN, Utah -- Smiles, hugs and kisses filled the Utah National Guard’s West Jordan tarmac Saturday morning.
Soldiers prepared to take off in Black Hawk helicopters.
But with those smiles, came tears.
Families bid their goodbyes, and good lucks.
"It`s kind of surreal,” said Lisa Creamer, whose husband Warrant Officer Nick Creamer was part of the mission.
They knew for a year he’d be leaving. But Lisa said that didn’t make the process any easier. “You feel like you always have so much time,” she said. “It goes by fast."
This is Warrant Officer Creamer’s first deployment. He’s been with the National Guard for nine years.
Around 30 family members and friends turned out to say goodbye. They spent much of the morning taking family photos.
He won’t see his wife or three young daughters for a year, except over Skype.
"This is the first time away from my family for that long of a time," he said. "It`s tough to be able to say goodbye to your family, and be ripped apart from them for a year. But it's something we got to do."
He’s part of the Medical Evacuation (Medevac) team, which flies Black Hawk helicopters around Afghanistan to pick up the wounded.
They’ll save lives, but they’re also risking theirs.
"Being a Medevac pilot, Medevac healthcare professional, is a dangerous job," said Major General Jeff Burton. "We`ve got medevac pilots who have been shot down."
But, he added, they are dedicated. It’s what they love to do.
“The fact of the matter is, they care deeply for our wounded and that`s what they do,” he said. “They go find them, they get them and bring them home.”
Before the 17 soldiers took off, the National Guard held a special deployment ceremony. Each soldier got called up.
Families clapped, and wept as they recognized their loved one.
The group then got ushered out to the tarmac, where three Black Hawk helicopters awaited.
Wives, daughters and sons, parents and siblings got a few last moments.
Morgan May gave her fiancé- as of two weeks ago- one last hug and kiss.
"That`s what`s going to get us through, is focusing on the future,” he said. Instead of thinking about how much they’ll miss each other, he said they’re looking at “all the happy times that we`re going to share together."
Finally, all soldiers boarded the helicopters.
As the trio of choppers lifted off and flew away, more tears streamed down the faces of family members.
Many waved, and stood with hope for a safe return of their soldier.
The 17 soldiers of Detachment 2, Charlie Company, 5th Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment, Utah National Guard first flew to Fort Hood, Texas, where they’ll spend a month in final training.
After that, they’ll take off for Afghanistan for the year-long deployment.