More than 100 soldiers depart St. Petersburg for Afghanistan

Published Oct. 23, 2012

ST. PETERSBURG — Spc. Darius Radmanesh keeps a photograph of him and his wife tucked away in the front pocket of his uniform.

"I love you" is scribbled on the back, along with a kiss, branded in red lipstick.

He said goodbye Monday to his wife, Kelsey, and their two dogs, Benelli and Ruger, at the Max R. Stover Army Reserve Center.

Amid increasing calls for an accelerated withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the 22-year-old is among more than 100 soldiers from the 320th Military Police Company who are headed back to that country.

They will remain overseas for nine to 12 months.

This is Radmanesh's first deployment.

"I just got to do my job and come home," said Radmanesh, an Army specialist.

Around the young couple, other loved ones embraced throughout the parking lot of the Army Reserve Center.

Spc. Donald Starcher, 40, kissed his wife, Stephanie, and hugged his son. This also will be Starcher's first deployment.

Starcher's eyes darted between his wife and son as he was asked what he was feeling. "Anxious," he said. "Scared."

Starcher's birthday is Oct. 30, but the family celebrated early by having dinner and watching movies at their Titusville home.

On Monday, a birthday card from his family was among Starcher's belongings.

"I don't know if he'll ever come back or what's going to happen," said his 17-year-old son, Rick.

A few feet away stood Spc. Roy Keyes and his family from Gainesville. Keyes, his wife and their two children held hands moments before he boarded a bus to Tampa International Airport.

Keyes was deployed to Iraq about three years ago after marrying his wife, Angel.

This time, his departure is more difficult, his wife said, because the kids are now 13 and 15 and they understand that not every soldier comes home.

Her cheeks stained with tears, Angel said she was proud of her husband.

"I'm just looking forward to him coming home," she said.

As the last bags were stuffed into the luggage compartments of the buses, Sgt. 1st Class Robert Swanson smiled at his wife.

Swanson and Eliana, 39, of Largo have been together more than five years. This month, they got married.

This is Swanson's fourth deployment. He's been to Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

While they were dating, he was deployed twice.

"You just have to stay positive and everything is going to be okay," Eliana Swanson said.

On Monday, Swanson asked his wife to buy 30 cheeseburgers and 30 orders of fries at McDonald's for his platoon.

"It's always hard," Eliana said. "It doesn't matter how many times you do it."

As her husband stepped onto the bus, she clutched a crumpled McDonald's bag to her chest.

Laura C. Morel can be reached at (727) 893-8713 or