The first wave of soldiers from the Coastal Empire are on their way back to Iraq. One hundred and thirty members of the 416th Transportation Company left Hunter Army Airfield on Wednesday night for their second deployment with Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Eleven months ago, they came home for Christmas. Captain Wendy Merz's mother stuck a red package bow on her helmet, calling her daughter her "present." This year, it will be a very different holiday for the 416th Transportation Company.
"Time has gone by very fast," admits Captain Merz, company commander for the 416th Transportation Company.
Time still is going fast. Christmas had to come early this year.
"This time, obviously, we'll be away," she added, "but we made sure the soldiers had time to spend a quick Christmas, an early Christmas, with their families this time."
The 416th will supply fuel to coalition forces west of Baghdad. They'll be gone for at least a year. It's a long time to be away from home, especially if you're a new father. Staff Sergeant Raymond Thomas' baby girl Jaquayla is just one week old. He knows he's going to miss a lot.
"When I get back, she'll probably be crawling and walking and doing some things I had to miss," said Staff Sergeant Thomas.
He says a little girl is a big reason to defend your country. The hard part is having that "father to daughter" talk explaining why you have to go.
"(I told her) Baby, I'll be going away for a little while, but I'll be back home soon, hopefully."
In the coming months, thousands of fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters, just like the men and women of the 416th Transportation Company, will deploy from Hunter Army Airfield. All of them are on a mission to protect freedom for people around the world, including those they leave behind here at home.