Sarah Palin formally sent her 19-year-old son Track off to Iraq with a speech before his unit in Fairbanks, Alaska.
“As you depart us, your parents, your friends and family, if you allow for a few tears and (allow us) to hold you closer before you’re gone,” she told the troops of the Army’s 1st Stryker Brigade, Delta company, on Thursday.
The Republican vice presidential candidate didn’t mention her son by name in her remarks during the deployment ceremony that coincided with the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Members of Track’s unit are expected to begin arriving in Iraq over the next several weeks
In an interview with PEOPLE in June, Sarah Palin said she was proud of her son, but that, “Track didn’t ask our permission to sign up.”
“He’s young, strong and smart and this is a good positive step for him,” she added. “He gave up hockey to do this and I’m very supportive. I believe in the cause, and hope and pray we have a worthy cause.”
Army Col. Burt Thompson, who heads Track’s unit at Fort Wainright, Alaska, told the Anchorage Daily News that Track receives no preferential treatment. After training in the Mojave Desert this summer, his unit is believed to be headed to Diyala, the fourth most violent of Iraq’s provinces. He will operate an armored eight-wheeled, 19-ton vehicle called a Stryker and serve as a bodyguard for brigade leaders.
Track’s father, Todd Palin, whose dad is an Army vet, told PEOPLE his only regret was that Track – who has an Alaska tattoo on his shoulder and a Christian fish on calf – didn’t investigate other branches of the service more thoroughly before enlisting.
But he supports his son’s decision. “He’s looking forward to it,” Todd said. “He’s an independent young man.”
Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph Biden’s son Beau, 39, is also headed for Iraq, as a military lawyer.