A civil engineer by trade and mother of two young children, Tara Richards is not used to firing an M4 carbine rifle or M9 semiautomatic pistol.
But in preparation for her six-month deployment to Afghanistan, the U.S. Air Force Reserves captain and Flowery Branch city councilwoman has "had to get up to speed on training and qualify on weapons," she said.
Flashing a smile, she said she reached the expert level with the M9. "It was very exciting," she said.
Richards, 35, is gearing up for deployment as part of the 628th Civil Engineer Flight at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta.
She will serve in Bagram, Afghanistan, from March
through August or early September.
"Leaving the kids will be the hardest thing I've ever had to do," she said in an interview Sunday at her Sterling on the Lake home.
She and her husband, Mike, are raising 22-month-old and 3-year-old children.
"It will certainly be challenging here at the house," said her husband, speaking of his wife's absence. "My parents do live close by, so it's not like we don't have anybody around."
Tara Richards figures the experience will be "something that makes you stronger."
"Looking back, I know it will be a great experience," she said. "It's just the getting ready to leave. It's a little bit crazy on all fronts.
"You're so busy with the deployment process and the training that comes in front of it, it's hard to have time to focus on the family and the personal things you have to do to get ready."
Richards, 35, who joined the Reserves after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, has trained in Florida and will head to New Mexico and Ohio for more training. Then, "it's back to Florida, before I leave," she said.
As for her work overseas, she will be "managing engineering projects on and around Bagram Air Base," a military airport and housing complex in the war-torn country.
"I'll be working with all branches, not just the Air Force," Richards said. "There are coalition forces stationed there, so ... there will be local Afghanis, French, a little bit of everybody."
Richards isn't the first local government official to deploy overseas.
Oakwood City Manager Stan Brown also served in the 628th Civil Engineer Flight, spending three tours of duty in Iraq. He is now retired from the service.
"I'm in the same unit (he) deployed with," Richards said. "You could even say I took his position when he retired."
Richards will be absent from Flowery Branch government during a critical time.
A March 6 special election has been set to fill two vacant council seats, a March 17 retreat is scheduled to look at long-range issues, and the 2012-13 budget, which takes effect July 1, will gain final approval in June.
Still, she expects to email City Manager Bill Andrew and Mayor Mike Miller occasionally and especially "if there are major issues."
"I'll be able to vote before I leave," she said. "And with the retreat coming up, through emails (with city officials), I'll probably look at the agenda and try to weigh in a little bit on priorities and what (the city has) planned in the next year or two."