SMYRNA, Tenn. – Several thousand Tennessee National Guard soldiers will say goodbye this week to loved ones before heading back to train for a year-long mission to Iraq.
One of the first groups of the 278th Regiment left Monday morning from the Smyrna Armory where four-buses carried the soldiers to Camp Shelby in Mississippi.
They had been home on leave for the Christmas holiday and have one more scheduled leave before deployment in February.
"This is the toughest part of being a solider, the goodbyes," said Lt. Colonel John Krensen, who leads the 278th's Second Squadron that left Monday.
"I know it's got to be hard for him because this is the last he'll see of his home for awhile, that's what makes it a little tough for us," said the colonel's wife, Carrie.
Lt. Colonel Krensen, however, seemed to have briefed his family well on what lies ahead on the Iraqi mission.
"He told me about how the practice where the car tips over and they can get out and not be hurt," said his eight-year son, Evan.
His nine year daughter, Dasha said, "It's been okay but it's sort of hard because he had to say goodbye to everything and everyone."
While Col. Krenson is a soldier for now, he leaves behind not only a family but a career as management consultant and a deacon position at Nashville's Cathedral of the Incarnation.
Other soldiers of the 278th unit preferred their families stay behind.
"My wife brought me [and] then she went off to work," said First Sgt. Doug Haynes.
"We tried to keep it as business as usual [‘cause] its hard enough when you are gone," said the former Nashville mechanic, who went full time with the guard after the car dealership he worked for recently closed.
It was sort of business-as-usual for some families, who chose to see their loved ones board the buses.
Rosemary Woolsey has seen her husband leave three other times for Iraq.
"Its not as scary as it was in the beginning, I hear from him, so I know he's going to go over do what he has to do and come home," she said.
Her husband Michael savors every moment with their third child who shares his father's name.
"Because I know with my first child, I missed almost two years of his life with deployments and training, so with this one I get to see him walk, start walking and playing around," he said.
Donations from area churches, civic groups and businesses paid the buses that brought the soldiers home for Christmas break.
Another group of guard soldiers are scheduled to leave Tuesday in buses paid for by donations raised at Madison's Cornerstone Church.
In Iraq, the 278th unit will provide security as American and Coalition troops withdraw.