Utahns send off 360 soldiers to Afghanistan
West Jordan • Holly Jepsen wept Monday morning as she watched the last of six buses carrying nearly 360 Utah soldiers, including her husband, pull away from the Utah National Guard's Aviation Support Facility.
"There is a sense of worry, but you can't let it consume you," said the young Brigham City mother of two, whose husband, Rick Jepsen, is bound for Texas and, after several weeks there, Afghanistan along with fellow soldiers in the 1st Battalion of the 211th Aviation unit. "You have to keep them in your prayers."
Snow grounded the 12 Apache helicopters that the unit's pilots were supposed to fly to Fort Hood on Monday; they will try again Tuesday. The rest of the soldiers were taken by bus from West Jordan to another Guard facility, where they met a chartered flight to Texas.
More than 1,000 family members and friends braved treacherous, snowy roads during the morning commute to say farewell to the soldiers, whose deployment is expected to last a year.
This is Rick Jepsen's first deployment, his wife said.
"It's not easy," she said. "It's not easy, but it's worth it."
The 211th suffered a whiplash of sorts several months ago when its deployment to Iraq was canceled after many of the soldiers had quit jobs or moved out of their homes. In November, the word came from Washington that they would be sent to Afghanistan this winter.
Carl Bowcut said his son had quit his job and scrambled to find another one when that happened.
Bowcut and his family, who live in Spanish Fork, sent off three soldiers Monday his son, a son-in-law and a foster son.
"It's a privilege," he said. "We're thrilled our sons could serve their country."
The crowd packed a hangar at the Aviation Support Facility in West Jordan, nibbling on bagels and orange slices provided by Fresh Market and ogling the AH-64D Apache attack copters that the unit's several dozen pilots fly.
Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, spoke to the soldiers and their families, as did Maj. Gen. Brian Tarbet, adjutant general of the Utah National Guard.
Lt. Col. Gordon Behunin, commander of the Aviation Support Facility, said the 211th's 1st Battalion will divide into three groups once in Afghanistan.
The 211th's 2nd Battalion, with 66 members, has been in Afghanistan since this past summer, he said, and is expected home this summer.
President Barack Obama announced last June that the military would begin drawing down troops sent into Afghanistan in the 2009 surge. By 2014, the United States expects to hand over security to Afghan authorities.