August 23rd, 2010
03:07 PM ET

Final hours before deployment

As part of an ongoing series “A Soldiers Story,” CNN's Jason Carroll follows Sgt. Randy Shorter and his unit as they head into Afghanistan.  

It's hard describe how thankful I am to Sgt. Randy Shorter and his family for allowing us into their home the day before his deployment. (More: Soldier heads to third deployment)

Any soldier's family who has gone through this will tell you every minute is precious and we clearly saw that when we visited Shorter at Fort Campbell. As per tradition, they held a dinner, inviting a small group of soldiers in his unit who did not have family nearby.  They could spend these final hours with others before deploying instead of being alone. Randy made BBQ, his wife Sheryll made an amazing rice dish.

One of the most difficult moments was when I spoke to their daughters. They cried, already familiar with the pain of being separated from a parent. This is Randy's third combat tour of duty. This time, it will be a year in Afghanistan. During his last deployment to the region, his convoy came under attack. Randy helped the wounded men while returning fire, earning the Silver Star for bravery.

One of the men he helped two years ago was Specialist Frank Whorton. He was Randy's gunner on the convoy. I met Frank at the BBQ and he told me now that his wounds have healed, he's headed back with Randy on this deployment. I asked if he had second thoughts. Frank told me he wanted to serve and felt Randy was the type of leader he wanted to serve under again.

We're following these band of brothers as they head to the Paktika province in southeast Afghanistan. We've taken the 20-plus hour flight, touching down in Shannon, Ireland; then landing in Bucharest, Romania, for refueling. Currently, we're at Manas Transit Center, in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Next stop is Bagram Air Force base where we'll catch a flight to Paktika Province. The place where Sgt. Shorter and the rest of the men in his unit will start their mission.

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