LUCEDALE, MS (WLOX) - Members of the 287th engineer company marched into City Park in Lucedale Saturday to a crowd waiting to say thank you.
"We live in the land of the free only because of our brave soldiers who serve in our military," said Mayor Doug Lee.
The 287th Engineer Company leaves Monday for training in Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. From there, they'll go to Afghanistan to serve as route clearance engineers.
"They have represented Lucedale and George County with honor, class and distinction," said Major General William Freeman, Adjutant General of the Mississippi National Guard. "I know these soldiers will represent Mississippi well in operation enduring freedom."
The chance to serve is extremely important to many of the men deploying.
"[It's] Everything," said Brian Kirby, who is deploying for the first time. "To give all my friends, all my loved ones a better future. To see how evil the world has become and to protect it, because we're the last beacon of light for the world."
"I think I owe it to my country," said Charles Adam Bledsoe, also on his first deployment. "Because its done a lot for me. Somebody's gotta give back."
Some loved ones shed tears during the ceremony. As Congressman Gene Taylor noted, families and close friends of the soldiers also sacrifice a great deal.
"You spouses, you moms, you dads, in many instances, the kids, you're making an incredible sacrifice too," Taylor said. "The sleepless nights, wondering if they're going to be coming home okay, but I can tell you that our nation is behind them."
Taylor threw his own support behind the soldiers, pledging to help them get what they need overseas.
"I have a special responsibility, in that I sent you there," Taylor said. "And I have a special responsibility to get you home safely."
It's support like that, from their leader, loved ones and friends, that comforts many soldiers as they prepare to serve.
"You know you've got support for your family, and folks to look after your family when you're gone, it makes you feel good," said First Sergeant Arthur Lee Townsend. "You can leave knowing things are taken care of when you're gone."
The soldiers said they don't know yet exactly how long they'll be gone, but they said their deployments could last longer than one year.
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