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thedrifter
11-24-03, 09:07 AM
Familiar scene is never easy
November 24,2003
MIKE SHERRILL
DAILY NEWS STAFF

Most family members stood quietly.

Some wept. Others continually smoked cigarettes, the smoke mixing with nighttime fog and breaths visible in the cold.

Marines and sailors stood in desert cammies and fiddled with packs arraigned in rows. They joked with each other and made cell phone calls. Many were anxious. They hugged fiancés and mothers and then mixed into the crowd.

Jacksonville's nightlife traffic dwindled after 3 a.m., those people going home to normal sleep-in Sunday routines. But inside Camp Lejeune, families waited with members of 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment leaving for Afghanistan days before Thanksgiving.

Military officials announced earlier this month that nearly 1,000 troops in 2/8 would leave on what has been published as a six-month deployment. Many had been home only months from Iraq.

The familiar scene never gets easy, the line of gear and charter buses bound for Cherry Point Air Station to airplanes and another deployment, families say. They resign themselves to pride in their service members, knowing this is the life they chose.

Some had abrupt holiday gift exchanges this week without the adornments of decorated trees.

"It doesn't get easy, but it's his job and I know it," said Sandra Augusto, wife of Staff Sgt. Raul Augusto. "I'm just proud he's there to serve his country."

Toddler R.J., held in her arms, had a blanket around his neck like a cape. He fiddled with his winter cap. Augusto's middle school-aged daughters slept in the car.

The Augustos exchanged gifts Saturday, but the daughters are thinking of functions their father will miss, Augusto said.

"You can see they have a bit of sadness," she said.

While the Augustos have been through deployments, Pvt. Ryan Kavey's family was going through their first. His mother and fiancé drove from north of Baltimore to see him go.

"I'm worried. I want him to be safe," mother Mary Kavey said.

Though she said she prepared herself for deployments, she was surprised at all the arrangements necessary beforehand - what to do with his vehicle, his power of attorney and, pausing here, her son's will.

"I don't need him to be talking about that. He's 19-years-old," she said. "But I'm proud of him. He's a good guy, and this is a good choice."

Members of the 2/8 were given refresher training on mountainous terrain, mule packing and cold weather climates, Capt. Christopher Bopp said.

"The biggest challenge of the training was that many of them just came back from Iraq and there was such a short turnaround time." he said.

"I'm sure (leaving before the holidays) is harder for the families. I know for me, personally, it would have been nice to stay home for Thanksgiving to have that meal with my family, but that's what we're trained to do."

As troops checked weapons and tightened packs, some conversation centered on where to pack gas masks and extra cold weather gear.

Sgt. Phillip Baugh, a native of Jamaica, said he wanted to make sure he didn't forget anything. He'd been back at Lejeune for four months.

"I'm anxious. I think the adrenaline is going to keep me awake," he said. "We just go where they put us."

Cpl. Wesley Burnette was leaving a month before his wedding anniversary, but he was home for the birth of his 4-month old daughter, Alexis. He and his wife exchanged Christmas gifts, and he bought her anniversary jewelry days before.

"It's really very difficult since it's so close to the deployment in Iraq," Burnette said.

In March, Sgt. Nicholas Thunker of Minnesota was fighting in Iraq, where members of his unit - 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment - were killed in An Nasiriyah.

"Everyone knew someone, had a friend who was killed," he said. "It's tough, but we're Marines."

In October, he was at the University of Minnesota football game against rival Michigan. Sunday, he was boarding a bus to Afghanistan. He was upbeat and made a crack about connecting flights.

"All I really know about (Afghanistan) is what you see on the news," he said. "You can see there's still fighting there."

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Sempers,

Roger
:marine: