FAYETTEVILLE — Adults wiped their eyes solemnly during Tuesday's two-hour deployment ceremony for nearly 4,000 members of the N.C. National Guard headed to Iraq.
A woman sobbed while standing in line at a concession stand waiting to order a pizza. Babies wailed.
Spc. Matt Sears was leaving behind his only child, Aidyn, a daughter born April 9. His grandmother, Rosetta Allen of Goldsboro, said, "I feel like my heart's coming out."
It's the second deployment for the N.C. National Guard's 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team. Based in Clinton, the team has armories from Wilmington to Charlotte, as well as a battalion from West Virginia and a company from Colorado.
Some soldiers were scheduled to leave on planes early this morning. Most will be gone in 10 days.
Dignitaries did their best to lighten the mood at Crown Coliseum.
Gov. Beverly Perdue asked for a round of applause for the soldiers, then asked the soldiers to clap for their loved ones, "the families who will keep your mess together while you're fighting for this country."
Col. Gregory A. Lusk, commander of the 30th, promised that the tears would be transformative.
The soldiers will come home, Lusk said, proud of making the world a safer place.
After the ceremony, Allen waited outside to see her grandson. Her tears began before she even saw him. Matt's mom was crying. His wife, Casey, was crying. His cousins cried. His aunt cried.
Sears, 20, bent down to kiss his infant daughter on the forehead. He hugged everyone.
Matt Sears didn't cry. He did not want to in front of his family.
But, after his bus was delayed and he returned for a second round of goodbyes, he covered his eyes with his hand.