Chief Warrant Officer Joshua Chason held his 3-week-old daughter, Kuiper, as long as he could as she slept peacefully. The next time he picks her up, she will be a year older.
Chason is part of a 60-member Maryland Army National Guard unit that deployed Friday from Aberdeen Proving Ground for a yearlong mission in Afghanistan. He and his wife, Andrea, had planned the birth of their second child after Chason's planned deployment to Iraq was canceled, but his unit was quickly rescheduled for a stint in Afghanistan.
"I'll take it one day at a time, and soon enough, he'll be home," Andrea Chason said. She is preparing to be a "super-mom" over the next year, she said, caring for Kuiper and her sister, McKinley, who will soon turn 2, while working full time in pharmaceutical sales and taking night classes for a nursing degree.
While the war in Iraq officially ended in December, fighting continues in Afghanistan, calling units like Chason's away from their families. As the nation prepares to honor Monday members of the military who have died, the local unit will be among those preparing to join a military effort that began more than a decade ago after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"We have a job to do," said Chief Warrant Officer Jason Michael, who missed his daughter's graduation from Perry Hall High School on Friday because of the deployment. "This is what they trained us for."
The unit, Company B, 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 126th Aviation Regiment, will take six Chinook helicopters to Afghanistan to help transport troops, supplies and equipment. It is the group's second deployment since 2008, when it returned from Afghanistan after a nine-month stint.
"We already have a very proud tradition," Capt. Terrance Thorgramson, the unit's commander, told a crowd of about 200 gathered for a brief ceremony in an armory at Aberdeen Proving Ground's Edgewood Area.
Unit members bid tearful goodbyes to family and friends after the ceremony, in which National Guard leaders thanked supporters for their sacrifices.
"We recognize the tremendous sacrifice of the Guard family," said Maj. Gen. James A. Adkins, Maryland's adjutant general. "You have the toughest job during deployment."
Staff Sgt. Timothy Sank wiped tears from his eyes as his daughter Jillian, a 6-year-old with long blond hair, hugged him. He'll be able to see her and his son, Timmy, once in a while via Skype or hear their voices over the phone, but communication can be sporadic, he said.
"That's a year of birthdays, Christmases and vacations," Sank said. "They have 'Doughnuts with Dad' at school, and you're not there."
It was the second send-off ceremony the National Guard held in the Edgewood armory in the past year. Gov. Martin O'Malleyspoke there in October, sending off an air traffic control unit to Iraq. Other groups have recently returned, including a 166-member unit based in Havre de Grace in December.
A 250-member Maryland Air National Guard unit, meanwhile, will likely be spared budget cuts that could have canceled its deployment this spring to Afghanistan. A U.S. Senate committee followed its House counterpart in approving a bill Friday to sustain funding levels for Air Guard units and aircraft across the country.
At the ceremony Friday, reservists' family members expressed mixed emotions about the deployment.
"Now I understand what my parents went through," said Bob Chason, Joshua Chason's father, who served two years in the Navy during the Vietnam War. "I understand the odds are in favor of all these guys coming back, but you never know."
Memorial Day weekend events
1 p.m. Sunday: American Legion Towson Post 22 remembrance at York Road and Shealey Avenue, Towson.
2 p.m. Sunday: Glen Burnie Improvement Association parade at Corkran Middle School, 7600 Quarterfield Road, Glen Burnie.
9 a.m. Monday: Ceremony at Baltimore National Cemetery, Loudon Park, 3445 Frederick Ave.
10 a.m. Monday: Ceremony at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens, 200 E. Padonia Road, Timonium.
10:30 a.m. Monday: Patriotic concert and ceremony at William A. Hubert Amphitheatre, 39 Hickory Ave., Bel Air.
10:30 a.m. Monday: Color presentation at Dewey Lowman Post 109 of the American Legion, Oregon Avenue and Sulphur Spring Road, Arbutus
Noon-3 p.m. Monday: Potluck lunch at First Christian Church, 5802 Roland Ave., Baltimore.