Despite frigid temperatures, local county residents lined the roadways from Pilgrim Mill Road to Veterans Memorial Blvdand to Ga. 400, waving their flags, holding handmade signs and shouting their support as nearly 600 soldiers rolled by on their way south.
In front of the Cumming Second Baptist Church on Veterans Memorial Blvd, lifelong Cumming local Kendra Adams stood and waited for the deployment with her son, her sister, and her niece and nephew.
Adam’s family isn’t one of those who have a member deploying, but still they decided to come out, waving signs that said, "These little hands will be praying for you! Thank you!" and "Land of the free because of the brave."
She said that earlier in the morning they had a conversation with the kids, explaining what was happening and why it was so important.
"We saw it on Facebook, so we wanted to come out to show some support," she said. “So we talked about it and kind of explained what it was and what was happening,"
And as the buses of soldiers began to roll through, the three youngsters did their part, holding the signs and waving with the rest of the gathered locals.
The send-off began with a ceremony at the Georgia Army National Guard Readiness Center on Aquatic Circle on Monday morning, leaving several hours before the buses left for soldiers to talk with loved ones and say a few last goodbyes.
According to Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Jacobs, officer in charge of operations for the Army National Guard, 3rd Battalion, 121st Infantry, the biggest message of the morning was local support — soldiers with families knowing that they will be taken care of by the community and young soldiers knowing that there is a community for them to come home to.
"We've got a lot of Vietnam vets that are here that didn't have that when they left, and a good number of us have deployed prior to this and haven't had that kind of support,” he said. “To have the community come out like this and show this support, it really means a lot."
One soldier, Terry Delancett, said that this will be his third deployment overseas, but this one will be different and harder — he is leaving a wife and seven kids at home.
His wife, Kristin, said that their family was sad and anxious about the deployment but they are already ready to start counting down the days until her husband returns.
"I know it will be easier once he actually leaves,” Delancett said. “Once we get everything started, it will even out and we can just countdown to when he comes home.”
As soldiers loaded up their gear onto the line of buses that will take them to Fort Stewart in southeast Georgia for training before their official deployment overseas, several groups of civilians and families with the armory’s Family Readiness Group pushed carts from bus to bus, handing out lunches and snacks to the soldiers.
One of the Family Readiness Group volunteers, Tiffany Garcia, was there with her daughters and husband who is leaving with this deployment. As Garcia and her daughters, Chloe and Sophia, handed out food to the soldiers, she said that it was the community who stepped up to send the soldiers off with goody bags.
"We've had donations from all over the city of Cumming and Forsyth County to make goody bags for the soldiers and their kids as they leave," she said.
Garcia said that even though this is her family’s fourth deployment, it’s still hard, especially around the holidays.
“It's really just trying to keep busy and make sure everyone is prepared,” she said. “We're used to it, so we're trying to help other families out that aren't."
Monday’s departure is part of a deployment of several thousand soldiers from across the state to Afghanistan, according to Jacobs, and will be the first time that the Cumming armory has been deployed since 2008.
Jacobs said that 90 percent of the soldiers deploying from Cumming are general infantry, which will assist Afghan forces in providing security and stability. He said that the deployment includes soldiers of all ages and skill levels, from young recruits to veteran soldiers with multiple tours under their belt.
One such veteran soldier, 1st Sgt. Tim Boyd, said that with this most recent rotation, he will have been deployed more than six times since 1983.
Boyd said that leaving home is never easy and actually seems to get harder with each time. But what gives him hope and makes things a little more bearable is seeing the community response at a deployment.
"It shows that regardless of who you are, America is still the best country in the world, and that flag you see flying over the top of our building actually means something,” Boyd said. “Not just to us in uniform, but to those people who we serve. We serve the people."