To either side, their friends and family, many fighting tears, sat watching their loved ones as they were honored for the mission they are about to embark on in service to the nation.
“It just feels like I can’t breathe,” said Amanda Mosley, who was there with her three children, aged 11 to 4, and 18 other family members to see off her husband, Spc. Daniel Mosley, and his cousin, Sgt. Shannon Timmons.
This is her husband’s first deployment.
“I’m not really sure how you’re supposed to handle this,” Amanda Mosley said. “We’ve never had to deal with this before.”
The family has spent the last few days preparing for the detachment’s departure.
“We bought stuff for him to take over there,” said Alyssa Mosley, 11. “We made some stockings for them.”
The family made stockings for all the men in the detachment so they would be able to celebrate Christmas, Amanda Mosley said, sniffing and wiping her eyes. They’re all our family, she said.
“This is somewhat of a bittersweet day,” Gov. Robert Bentley said as he addressed the troops and their families, summing up what many of them were feeling.
Bentley was on hand to present the men with an Alabama flag and a commendation for their service and to offer his support as they prepare to leave.
The detachment, all men, will do concrete and construction work in Afghanistan, said Timmons, the leader of the soldiers. They will leave families, jobs and schoolwork behind to accomplish their mission. The men will work on the bases where other soldiers are now serving, building helicopter pads and concrete pads for housing and offices.
“We’ll be working with a vertical platoon,” Timmons said. “They build and we’re building basically the foundations that they’ll build on.”
They’ve been training for a year to do the work, Timmons said.
“We’ve poured lots of concrete,” Timmons said. “We’ve done convoy operations … radio communication training, land navigation, combat training.”
Timmons, a 17-year veteran of the armed forces, has been deployed before, to South America. He said he has some idea what to expect, but other members of the detachment are completely new to this kind of mission.
Spc. Demetrices Smith is a full-time student at the University of West Alabama in Livingston, studying education. He hopes to coach high school football when he graduates.
He joined the National Guard to work his way through college, but now feels it is more of a call to serve.
“It’s more become like an honor or privilege to serve,” Smith said.
Still, he’s feeling mixed emotions as he is preparing to leave his family and school for a year.
“You feel nervousness; like a little bit excited because I’ve never been outside of the States,” Smith said. “Just a whole bunch of emotions, kind of sad to be leaving my family behind.”
His parents, David and Jackie Clarke, who attended the ceremony were also feeling mixed emotions.
“It’s sad and then happy,” Jackie Clarke said. “The sooner they leave, the sooner they’ll get back.”
The youngest of the men set to deploy is Spc. Harrison Hamlin, 20, who grew up in Piedmont. He and his friend Spc. Dustin Ray, 21, also from Piedmont, joined the high school’s ROTC and then the National Guard together after high school.
They’re both excited about the deployment. It helps that they’re being deployed together, Ray said.
“We actually grew up together,” Ray said. “We pretty much stayed together.”
But it also helps knowing that they’re making a difference.
Sgt. Kerry Kitchens, 35, has been in the National Guard since 2008. This is his second time in the military. He was in the Marine Corps for four years, discharged in 2001.
“I had an overwhelming desire, I guess, to be back in uniform, to be serving,” Kitchens said explaining why he re-enlisted.
Watching the news, seeing what was going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, made him want to put on a uniform again. But this time, as he deploys, he leaves a wife and four children behind as he does his tour. That makes leaving a little harder this time. But he knows he’ll be accomplishing something good when they get to Afghanistan. In his day job, Kitchens is a CAT scan technician at Jackson Hospital in Montgomery, but his work in the military is just as satisfying, he said.
“Whatever engineering projects we have, whether it be to support the infantry troops or whatever it might be, it’s for a good cause,” Kitchens said.
Paul Sims, a member of Blue Star Salute Foundation, a support group for members of the military and their families, came to the ceremony to express his support for the men.
A Vietnam veteran, Sims said it was an honor to see them take up the responsibility of serving their country.
Sims was deployed in 1969 and 1970 to Vietnam. He advised the men to focus on their mission in Afghanistan.
“Don’t think about home,” Sims said. “Be careful, and know that we are here to support them and their families.”
Contact staff writer Laura Camper at 256-235-3545.