Pvt. Brent Evans probably won't be there for his son Tristan's first words or first steps.
Evans, 20, will leave behind his wife, Amber. They've been a couple since ninth grade. She'll be left to handle their 9-month-old son for a year while Brent Evans and about 3,400 other Oklahoma National Guard soldiers with the 45th Infantry Brigade are deployed to Afghanistan.
A farewell ceremony is Feb. 16 in Oklahoma City. From there, the soldiers will get training at Camp Gruber near Braggs and at Fort Polk, La., before they deploy to Afghanistan in late spring or early summer.
Until then, the soldiers and their families are making final preparations as best they can.
“I feel like we're not prepared,” said Amber Evans, 19. “We've just kind of been blocking it out and enjoying our time together while we can. And it's his first time going, so we don't know what to expect.”
Many of the soldiers and their families gathered recently for Project Yellow Ribbon at the Reed Center in Midwest City. The event brought together groups that provide services soldiers or their families might need during deployment.
The needs are varied, from financial advice to mental and emotional support.
Brent Evans said it was helpful and appreciated. He and his wife have made plans for her to move from their home in Bartlesville to Oklahoma City, where his parents live.
Still, nothing really can prepare you to be away from those you love for a year, he said.
“We've been trying to move her closer to my family so she'll have some help with the baby while I'm gone,” Brent Evans said. “It's not going to hit me until I leave, probably. I don't know what to think of it right now. I have no clue.”
Beyond the emotional challenges are the chores that must be taken care of before one can leave the country for a year, said Spc. Trevor Simmons of Oklahoma City.
“You have to prepare for finances,” Simmons said. “How are the bills going to get paid? How are you going to communicate while you are away?”
Simmons and his wife, Christine, have four children ages 2 to 16. The oldest, Jabril, said he's ready to take over as man of the house and help his mom with the younger kids while his father is gone. Trevor and Christine Simmons have been married 16 years.
“She probably needs a break from me,” Simmons said with a chuckle. “We'll get by.”
Pfc. Dale Crosser, of Oklahoma City, 24, is leaving a son behind. But he said the toughest part of getting ready has been preparing himself mentally for what he could face in Afghanistan.
Crosser's younger brother, John, is in active duty in the U.S. Army and served a couple of tours in Iraq. During his last deployment, he was injured by a roadside bomb.
“He got injured pretty badly,” Dale Crosser said. “He got 90 percent of his left calf muscle blown off. Shrapnel ran up his arm, and he had nerve damage. He almost had his leg amputated. He's walking again, but he can't run anymore. He can't keep a regular job.”
Dale Crosser said life has been hard for his brother since he was wounded.
“He's not the same,” Crosser said. “It's hard on the family, too. It is on my mind. It can happen to me. It can happen to anybody. You just have to keep faith and pray for the best.”
If you go
What: Farewell ceremony for about 3,400 soldiers with the Oklahoma National Guard's 45th Infantry Brigade deploying soon to Afghanistan.
When: 11:30 a.m. Feb. 16. Doors open at 9:30 a.m.
Where: Oklahoma City Arena (formerly the Ford Center) in downtown Oklahoma City. Overflow in the Cox Convention Center.