By Mason W. Canales
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD – Before they filed into formation and piled on a bus that would take them to the Robert Gray Army Airfield and eventually to Afghanistan, they shared kisses, tears, hugs and laughs with family members.
About 80 soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade deployed at about 4 p.m. Sunday from Fort Hood. Before their departure they were allowed to visit with family members while checking their equipment and waiting for their transit.
Sgt. Jesus Mancillas, of 6th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, was one among many who wiped tears from his wife's cheeks and clung onto her and his daughter before he geared up in formation.
"Anytime we get to spend with him, the more time the better," said Jeniffer, Mancillas's wife, while waiting for the buses to arrive.
Mancillas had been deployed twice before to Iraq, and he is now going to Afghanistan. The difference in location or the number of times deployed doesn't make it easier on his family, he said.
"It is still hard, no matter what," said Justine, Mancillas's daughter, who took pictures of him before he left. "No matter how many times we go through this."
Justine and Jeniffer were not the only family members who made the trip to Fort Hood to spend a few more moments with Mancillas. His parents as well as his in-laws came to the deployment.
For Mancillas, knowing that his extended family is there to comfort his wife and daughter makes leaving a little bit easier, he said.
But what troubled Mancillas was that not all the other soldiers who were leaving got the same luxury of having their family present in the last moments before flying over seas.
Soldiers such as 2nd Lt. Alberto Reyes, of the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, didn't get to see his fiancee at the deployment.
However, Reyes is a special case. His fiancee, Lt. Devon Savoy, deployed earlier this year in June. He is deploying early because he wants the same deployment schedule as her, he said.
"When it (the approval of getting deployed early) actually happened, we were excited," Reyes said. "It was important for us planning our lives together."
Reyes and Savoy won't be in the same parts of Afghanistan, and they probably won't see each other while deployed, he said. But that is not what is important. What is important is being back in the U.S. at the same time.
"It is kind of an increased risk, but we think it is important life choice for us," Reyes said.
About 3,300 people have been deployed to Afghanistan from the brigade, said Capt. Andrea Pratt, brigade spokeswoman. With the deploying troops on Sunday, it will be close to 3,400.
The soldiers who deployed on Sunday were replacement soldiers and soldiers to fill spots that the brigade asked for before it started to deploy to Afghanistan, Pratt said.
The brigade should only see one more deployment similar to this one in late September, she said.
"After this month, we shouldn't have large groups deploying," Pratt said.
After the buses carried the soldiers to Robert Gray Army Airfield, Brig. Gen. Mark McDonald spoke to family members about being strong and about how their soldiers were ready for Afghanistan.
"Let me tell you how proud of you I am," McDonald said to some family members. "This is tough, tough business to send them off."
But soldiers, such as Mancillas, wouldn't have it any other way.
"The last thing you want to see when you leave is family," Mancillas said.
Contact Mason W. Canales at email@example.com or (254) 501-7554.