Fort Meade, Md., - Maryland Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin thanked more than 100 Soldiers as the group bid farewell to friends and family before leaving April 13 for Iraq.

"Intelligence information becomes such an important tool in our success in winning this war against terror," said Cardin, who sits on the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee and chairs the Judiciary Committee's Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee. "I thank each one of you for being willing to serve our nation. ... What you are doing will help us secure victory. Each one of you will make a difference."

Hundreds gathered for the mobilization ceremony for Alpha Company, 323rd Military Intelligence Battalion at the Fort Meade Pavilion. The event also featured remarks from Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Military Intelligence Readiness Commander Brig. Gen. Leslie Purser and 323rd Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Karl Nell.

The unit, which falls under the Military Intelligence Readiness Command on Fort Belvoir, Va., and 66th Military Intelligence Brigade located in Wiesbaden, Germany, headed to Baghdad for a yearlong tour following the ceremony.

Also on hand were MIRC Chaplain (Lt. Col) Wylie W. Johnson and Maj. Gen. Gregory Schumacher, deputy commander, INSCOM G2, along with Installation Commander Col. Daniel L. Thomas, Command Sgt. Major Esmond Bakker and 323rd MI Command Sgt. Major Eric Garrison.

Miss Teen Maryland 2009 Kasey Staniszweski sang the National Anthem. The ceremony also featured computer stations courtesy of Operation Military Kids and a ReadyArmy display. The families enjoyed a barbecue lunch together before the Soldiers shipped out later that day.

The mission of the 323rd MI Battalion is to conduct theater-to-tactical level multidisciplined intelligence operations. The Soldiers will learn specifics of their mission after arrival in Baghdad, said 323 MI Battalion Chief Intelligence Sergeant, Master Sgt. Pamela Evans.

In preparation for the deployment, Soldiers underwent five weeks of training at Fort Dix, N.J., including weapons qualifications and tactical vehicles training. "It was immersion training," said Evans, a full-time Reserve Soldier assigned to Royal Air Force Station Molesworth, England.

"I'm deeply proud of you and the training you've done for this, one of the most important missions of your career," Purser said to the assembled Soldiers, whom she said "perform a critical mission. [I have] confidence in your abilities, training and character. ...You go in harm's way for the sake of our children and their children."

Speakers credited loved ones for their support as well.

"I particularly want to thank the families," said Ruppersberger, who has traveled to Iraq six times and serves on the House Select Committee on Intelligence. "When you are in the Reserve, you know this day may come."

"Your support back home really allows your loved one to serve the nation," Cardin said. "Thank you so much for being a part of this effort."

Purser, an Army wife, said the most difficult challenge is for those who stay behind. "Soldiers go away and can do their mission because they know [their families] are taking care of things [at home]," she said.

In his remarks during the ceremony, Nell charged his Soldiers to, "Collect, exploit and come home safely."

After the ceremony, Sgt. William Chapman of Romulus, Mich., said he was more concerned about his wife, Margaret, and their three children, MacKenzie, 8; Emma, 4; and Zachary, 3.

"I'm not worried about being [in Iraq]," he said. "I'm worried about not being home."

Margaret Chapman said she too, was anxious about the long separation. "I hope I can fill his shoes and be both mom and dad," she said.

The couple plans to communicate a few times a week via e-mail, phone calls and Web cam visits. "I hope to stay in touch," Margaret Chapman said. "That's a big concern."