Now the goodbyes are almost here.
Nearly 200 East Tennessee soldiers leave home later this month on their way to Iraq. Members of the 253rd Military Police Company, based in Lenoir City with a detachment in Bristol, will head out March 28 for training at Fort Dix, N.J., the Tennessee National Guard said Tuesday.
"We've been at this long enough that we were able to get about a year and a half to prepare," said Capt. Dallas Clements, the company commander. "But even with that much notice, it's not easy. My wife's still having trouble."
They'll be packing to leave even as the soldiers of another unit, the 230th Air Cavalry Squadron, pack their bags for home. Those soldiers, who left for Iraq last year, should return to Fort Sill, Okla., by the end of the month, said Maj. Randy Harris, spokesman for the National Guard.
The soldiers of the 253rd, about 170 altogether, will train at Fort Dix for about 30 to 45 days before deployment to Iraq. Duties there will consist of working with local police forces as other U.S. troops pull out.
"Our guys will be paired up with the Iraqi police stations," said Clements. "We'll be mentoring them on law enforcement through the transition. We're expecting to be spread out over the province we're assigned.
"Because we're considered military advisers, we will likely be continuing our work after the major drawdowns occur this year. I expect we'll be back in the state of Tennessee by next April."
He estimates about half of the company's soldiers previously served in Iraq, most with the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment from 2004-05. That regiment, which deployed in February, will help finish out the drawdown in Iraq.
"Our junior ranks are mostly new guys," Clements said.
The company will hold a briefing for families in both cities this weekend on what to expect during the deployment.
The Bristol soldiers leave March 25 for Lenoir City. Families and friends have planned a send-off for March 27 at 2 p.m. in Lenoir City. The bus rolls out the next day for McGhee Tyson Airfield and the plane to Fort Dix.