INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Sgt. Jahmaar Williams is preparing to miss his son Israel's first words, first steps and first birthday — the "very first moments of everything," he said.
But it's the daily duties of fatherhood, rather than the milestone moments of his firstborn's first year, that he'll miss most during his 9-month deployment overseas, he told News 8.
"Just the simple stuff," Williams explained. "Not being there when he cries [and] not being there when he's hungry."
He smiled at the infant, nuzzled up against a plush blue blanket draped over the shoulder of his camouflage combat uniform.
Williams, 27, was among the hundreds of Indiana National Guard members honored Saturday during a departure ceremony at the Indianapolis Colts' training facility on West 56th Street.
Soldiers from the 638th Aviation Support Battalion, based in Lafayette, are scheduled to deploy to undisclosed locations in southwest Asia to provide maintenance, logistics and sustainment support to U.S. Army aviation units under the leadership of Lt. Col. Theodis Pope, according to military officials.
The unique balance of service, sacrifice and strength required of National Guardsmen can feel like a "juggling act" with civilian jobs and family life, soldiers preparing for deployment said.
"[Joining the National Guard] is more than a second job," said CSM Elizabeth Daniels, a spokesperson for the 638th Aviation Support Battalion. "These soldiers give, give, give. And their families give even more. We wouldn't be able to do what we do without the support of our families and our communities."
The support she, in turn, had received from the National Guard far exceeded her expectations, Daniels added.
She elected to join while searching for a way to pay for college; what began as a solution for tuition woes ultimately blossomed into a decades-long career.
Daniels smiled as she glanced around the Colts complex and took in the sight of fellow soldiers introducing visiting relatives to each other.
"We're all family here," she said.
Williams said he, too, had initially joined the National Guard as a teenager in order to create more opportunities for himself.
After more than eight years of service and the birth of his first child, he said his focus had shifted from securing his own future to a broader desire to provide for his family, community and country.
"It's hard saying goodbye but I do what I have to do," Williams said, rocking his son. "I want to set a good example for Israel."
Sons in uniform bidding farewell to their fathers also rose to the challenge of looking past personal pain for a greater cause.
Sgt. Clint McNamara, a Purdue University graduate who joined the Indiana National Guard in August 2013, said he and his father had to say their goodbyes at the hospital the night before the departure ceremony.
"There's a lot going through my head," McNamara said Saturday morning. "It's emotional. It was rough last night saying goodbye to my dad."
His younger sister, Kaylan Binninger, sobbed as he embraced her after the ceremony.
"It's scary seeing him go," she said. "I just hope he does really well."
Older sister Kori McNamara comforted Binninger through her own tears, reminding her their brother was trained and well-prepared for overseas deployment.
"We're confident in him being able to go over there and do what he needs to do," she said.
Their mother, Sally Myers, told News 8 she "could not be more proud" of her son.
Another mother wiping away tears at the ceremony paused as she searched for the right words to describe how much she would miss her son.
Specialist Brandy Ford said leaving behind her 6-year-old "made [her] heart heavy" but she knew duty called.
The soldiers — all familiar with the challenges of balancing military service and civilian life — thanked loved ones as they prepared to put their roles as mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters and caretakers on hold.
Putting family first, they said, sometimes means making sacrifices together.