Friends and family cheered as buses carrying more than 100 men of Charlie Company, a Gainesville-based Army National Guard unit headed to Afghanistan, pulled away from the National Guard Armory on Monday morning.
As the bus drivers honked their horns, spectators yelled their last well wishes and displayed signs bearing messages such as "Our prayers go with you" and "Rock steady."
Plenty of tears were shed, as well, as families separated for what will be two months of final training at Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center in Mississippi and 10 months of deployment in Afghanistan.
"We’re looking forward to the four-day pass in Mississippi (in May)," said Christy Flynn, who watched with her three children, ages 8 to 12, as the bus carrying her husband, Staff Sgt. Michael Flynn, passed by.
The children carried a sign that read "Good luck, soldier. We’ll miss you, Daddy."
"We’re sad, but we’re anticipating his coming home in a year," she said.
Charlie Company, as well as other members of the 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment of the Georgia Army National Guard’s 48th Brigade, are being deployed.
The guardsmen already have trained at Fort Polk, La., home of the Joint Readiness Training Center, and Fort Benning near Columbus.
A public ceremony featuring patriotic music and speeches was held for the company Thursday at the Gainesville Civic Center.
Monday morning was a more private affair, with men hugging wives and children before packing up and boarding buses.
Colin Bottoms of Woodstock held his 7-month-old son, Colin Jr., while talking with his wife, Samantha. Bottoms is being deployed abroad for the second time.
"I knew last year this (second deployment) was going to happen, or we started to suspect this was going to happen," he said.
Samantha said she plans to stay busy while her husband is gone.
"I have my parents and his parents, and I’m going to have to let them watch (Colin Jr.) a lot so he doesn’t get too clingy toward me," she said.
Kay Sewell of Jefferson was joined by two friends, Gayle Troyer and Susan Henthorn, as she watched her son, 26-year-old Steven, head to Camp Shelby. They were holding signs supporting the company.
Asked about her thoughts before his departure, Kay Sewell said, "Just worry. I’m ready for him to get it over with and come back home."
"He wants to hurry up and get it over with," Henthorn said. "Get it on."
"I think it will be harder when they leave from Camp Shelby. Reality will set in, I think, more then as to what’s going on," Troyer said.
She added that she hopes "everyone will pray for these guys."
"Prayer is key. That’s the power to keeping them safe and protected, and that’s the most important thing we can do. They’re out there serving and protecting our freedoms."
Spc. Jason Marshall and his wife, Donna, have been married for two months, so the separation is especially difficult.
"It’s a completely different feeling just to know that you’re not going to see him or talk to him," she said. "(There’s just) a lot of numbness right now.
"But I know he’ll be OK. I’ve got faith that he’ll come back."
She said she plans to cope with Jason’s absence through "a lot of praying and family and friends ... and making sure I stay busy."