FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. -- Approximately 400 soldiers from Fort Huachuca are on their way to Iraq for a 12-month deployment.

They left in three stages - 43 on May 28, 300 on Sunday and 60 on Tuesday. Family and friends gave all three groups emotional send-offs prior to their departure.

The 40th Expeditionary Signal Battalion at Fort Huachuca spent Sunday afternoon with friends and family before leaving for Iraq. The group will be there for approximately a year, to assist with Operation Iraqi Freedom.

This is the fourth time the battalion has deployed, but some Soldiers left for the first time, making it extremely difficult for those who have never been separated.

However, many Soldiers were excited about deploying.

Sgt. Cheryl Hood and her husband are both deploying together and could not contain their enthusiasm. It would have been hard for them to be separated because the last time 40th ESB deployed, her husband was gone for 15 months. Now, they actually get to experience deployment together.

Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Simon is en route to his first deployment and, like many Soldiers, he is thrilled to be going. He says he has a natural curiosity for new cultures, food and experiences. For him, this deployment will give him the chance to experience these.

Simon said in the past, when people thanked him for his service, he never knew how to respond to them. This time he really feels as though he will have something meaningful to say because he feels as though he\'ll really contribute, though he will miss his wife and two children.

1st Sgt. Stephen Lee, first sergeant for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, deployed for the first time with the regular Army. He used to be a ranger assigned to Delta Force, and says this is a new experience for him. He was also very excited about going.

"I have never seen people more excited about deploying," said Spc. Danielle Ferrer, 11th Signal Public Affairs Office, about Soldiers in the group which departed Sunday. "While it was hard on the Families and friends left behind, and they were all sad and worried, the Soldiers were smiling and waving, wanting to get things going," adding the groups of departing Soldiers who left on the two other days were much more subdued.

Staff Sgt. Ryan Sims of HHC, 40th ESB, gives credit for deployment success to his wife, Victoria. He said she does "an amazing job" filling his shoes when he's gone. "She does well at being the father figure and the mother, and that's a hard job."

This is the second time Sims has deployed during their three-year marriage, so it's been a difficult time for them. He said his hardest part about deploying was that he had grown used to always having his family right there with him and just like that, they'll be gone. His biggest worry is missing out on his little boy's younger years. He said his wife is strong, and she always manages to hold the family together in his absence.

Spc. Elyna Bean and her husband will be separated for the first time, and she said she was devastated. She didn't think it was going to be as hard as it was for her to say 'goodbye' to him. She said she loves him intensely, and they've only been married a short time.

The 40th ESB Soldiers have said 'goodbye' - for now. In the year they'll be gone, they'll face the challenges that lie ahead. Meanwhile, their Families and friends remain behind, many praying the separation will end quickly and their Soldiers will return home to them.

Page last updated Thu June 10th, 2010 at 13:20