CLEVELAND, Tenn. - More than 100 Tennessee Army National Guard soldiers from the 252nd Military Police Company said farewell to family and friends Friday morning before leaving for a yearlong mission to Kuwait in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The soldiers, dressed in green and gray camouflage uniforms, sat, talked and laughed with each other and their loved ones inside the National Guard Armory on Dalton Pike, which was filled rows of tables decorated in patriotic red, white and blue.
"It's a bittersweet moment," said Capt. Chris Martinson, the company commander. "The company is ready and excited to take on their mission, but it is an emotional time for them and their families. I've done this for 20 years and the departures never get any easier."
Several soldiers expressed the same feelings: They were ready to do their jobs, but would also miss the loved ones they left behind.
"It's rough," said Pfc. Brandon Crowe of Dayton, Tenn., who is leaving on his first deployment.
"It's a sad time for the family."
"It's hard," said Hali Johnson, Crowe's fiancée. "We have a baby on the way and that's our main concern right now."
"I'm superexcited to be serving my country," said Spc. James Anthony, of Whitwell, Tenn., who has served since 2012.
His fiancée, Zilli Jones, said she was glad that he got to do what he wants to do for his country.
Martinson would not reveal specifics of their mission in Kuwait.
In general, their duties call for them to provide law and order on bases, he said.
The soldiers have been training for a year in preparation of the Kuwait mission and he is proud of them, Martinson said. They will undergo another month of training at Fort Dix, N.J., before going overseas, he said.
This isn't the first overseas deployment for some unit members.
The 252nd Military Police Company was in Iraq in 2009-10, said Sgt. William Johnson, of Nashville, who has served with the National Guard for eight years and took part in that deployment.
"During that mission, we provided training to Iraqi police," he said. "It was a real eye-opener."
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann was on hand to thank the soldiers and their families for their "time, effort and talents."
"Ladies and gentlemen, you are our very best," said Fleischmann. "God bless every one of you."
Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at email@example.com.