Tearful mothers, wives and children watched in the nighttime darkness the first U.S. troops to deploy as part of President Obama's surge board buses that would take them to their flight for southern Afghanistan.
For many, the hardest sound was that of the buses pulling up. With the sigh of the bus brakes comes a sinking feeling that the moment has arrived. The moment, so close to Christmas, is especially poignant with those who have children.
"I wish they were getting off instead of getting on," one mother said.
In a nighttime chill, older Marines huddled with their families. Some couples exchange nervous banter, others stood silently, undoubtedly aware these Marines would be entering some of the most difficult and deadly fighting of the Afghan campaign.
Lance Corporal Brian Griffin, 20, of Georgia stood alone. "I'm a little nervous," he said. "It's my first time going."
In the eyes of these deploying troops of the 1st Battalion 6th Marines can be seen a mix of confidence and fear, nervousness, apprehension, and perhaps above all an assurance that their training will carry them through.
About half the Marines in 1st Battalion 6th Marines have been in combat, but the unit's executive officer Major Heath Henderson told us they're ready.
"They've been well briefed, well trained. They're ready to go," Henderson said.
These Marines seem generally aware they're leading the surge, and Obama's new strategy to blunt the Taliban, build the Afghan Army and begin leaving by 2011, but to those who have deployed before it's just another trip to war.
"Last one was a good experience," said Staff Sgt. Sean Young, who is on his way to his third trip to a war zone. "Hopefully this one will be just as well and then come back and get a little time with my family again."
His wife, Mary, and their two young kids will be waiting. "As they get older it gets harder," she said. "They still don't understand, but they know that daddy's leaving."
For Sgt. David Blea, 26, of South Bend, Ind., it's yet another good-bye. He's off to the war zone for the fourth time. He has spent the bulk of his adult life at war.
Emotional Marine Deployment Just Days Before Christmas
"It's an emotional time because the families get separated and what not, but other than that it's work... I don't think you ever get used to it, but it's a little bit easier," Blea told ABC News.
This is a first for Blea, however. It's his first deployment since marrying his wife Rose.
"It's always heartbreaking to see them go," Rose Blea said. "There's a lot of emotion. All of it together is just really rough."
For Blea and his family Christmas has already come and gone. With the precision of a Marine sergeant, Blea included gift giving on his deployment checklist. His four tours included one other Christmas in a combat zone. But this one is special.
"This is our first Christmas away married. The other time we were engaged, so yeah, this one is going to be a little bit rough," Rose Blea said.
The sergeant, however, is trying to keep the deployment and the president's surge strategy strictly business.
"I don't think it's my job necessarily to worry about it," Blea said. "I follow the president where he needs me to go. So that's his decision... We just do what we need to do."
Lance Corp. Chris Rattee huddled against the cold with his pregnant wife Monica. His second deployment, he said, is no easier than the first one.
"Saying good-bye, especially this (with the baby on the way)is 20 times harder," Rattee said.
Rattee spent his last moments before deployment rubbing his wife's tummy. She's due to give birth before he's due to come home.
"I'll miss this by two or three months," he said, referring to the birth.
In the darkness in their final moments with their families, some Marines clutch their children or huddle with their wives. There's nervous laughter and apprehensive chatter. Some couples just stand quiety, no need to say anything.