JEFFERSON CITY - A combination of pride and sadness filled the Missouri Army National Guard Armory in Jefferson City on Thursday as families and community representatives said goodbye to 16 soldiers bound for Afghanistan.
The soldiers - senior officers from a variety of occupational specialties - will be in Afghanistan for 545 days to train the Afghan National Army.
Maj. Scott Englund, a member of the 35th Support Command of Lexington, Mo., and an auditor for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is in charge of the 16 soldiers.
Englund, who lives in Jefferson City, said that although his family will see changes, such as the transition between civilian and military insurance and benefits, they mostly will go on with their normal lives.
"They will stay busy with their day-to-day activities - ballgames, cheerleading," he said. "Their life still goes on the same way."
As for himself, he avoids thinking about his departure, he said.
"Everybody handles it differently," he said. "Myself, I try to repress it, think about different things."
Englund's wife, Lori Englund, said the family has spent a lot of time together lately.
"You do as much as you can together, whether it's going to the store or having dinner together," she said.
The soldiers will depart for Camp Atterbury, Ind., where other units will join in the mobilization and additional training.
Maj. Hadley Turner of the 35th Division Support Command said the soldiers are all specialized in occupations falling under "combat service support," and are being deployed because of their special backgrounds.
"These people are the cream of the crop," Turner said.
The soldiers are departing from a variety of unit locations, including the 70th Troop Command of Jefferson City, 35th Support Command of Lexington and the 135th Field Artillery Brigade of Sedalia.
First Lt. Jamie Melchert, public affairs officer for the Missouri Guard, said the guard is currently seeing "an influx of departures and welcome-homes." At 10:30 a.m. Thursday, eight soldiers arrived in Springfield after serving in Iraq, he said.
"There's a continuation of soldier rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan, and also rotations providing homeland defense," he said.
There are currently 10,500 in the Missouri National Guard. Of that, 3,100 are deployed in the United States and in foreign territory.
The ceremony began at 10 a.m. State Rep. Bill Deeken, R-Jefferson City, attended and recognized the difficult emotions that go with saying goodbye to the soldiers. Deeken said that seeing the children in the audience whose fathers would be leaving "tears me apart."
Ann Kutscher, capitol liaison for U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton, said that these ceremonies are not her favorite either.
"I prefer going to ceremonies for returning troops," she said. "It's easier than deploying troops."
As the ceremony concluded with the exit of the soldiers, several members of the audience were tearful, while others smiled and clapped. Children wearing their father's patrol caps waved small American flags.