VICENZA, Italy - More than 700 Soldiers of the Vicenza, Italy-based 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team said goodbyes to their families and loaded onto planes destined for Afghanistan Dec. 9 in Italy.

Announced in July, the paratroopers' mission is to replace forces currently deployed to Afghanistan to maintain the capabilities of NATO's International Security Assistance Forces. They will be among the first American Soldiers to arrive in Afghanistan following President Barack Obama's announcement of a troop surge.

"The Soldiers are absolutely motivated and prepared to go," said Maj. Steven Williams, 173rd ABCT rear-detachment commander. "Their morale is high. They are prepared to fight and do what is expected of them."

The latest group of 173rd Soldiers to deploy followed several hundred of their fellow troopers who have departed Vicenza over the past weeks. The troops flew out of Aviano Air Base, Italy, where Army and Air Force airfield operations specialists coordinate to deploy and redeploy troops. The personnel alert holding area (PAHA) where Soldiers wait to board aircraft is located on Aviano Air Base, but is managed entirely by the Army.

Vicenza is the only garrison in Europe that provides full-spectrum deployment support operations, both to tenant units such as the 173rd, U.S. Army Africa forces and other units within its area of operation. The support begins at Vicenza with staging, marshalling and container movement, follows on to preparing troops and families for deployment and finishes when the last aircraft touches down at its destination. As soon as all personnel and materiel are accounted for, Vicenza personnel start planning for the redeployment, according to Greg Hutcheson, operations officer, Directorate of Logistics, USAG Vicenza.

In this case, the Soldiers received deployment support from Air Force members, and morale support from Air Force spouses and retirees at the PAHA. The troops were met by spouses and retirees taking part in Operation Yellow Ribbon. They provided a continual supply of foods and beverages, including homemade cupcakes and a roasted turkey for the 700-plus troops to snack on. The volunteers in the Aviano chapter of Operation Yellow Ribbon have served thousands of service members in the past five years and try to meet every aircraft, said Noel Parks, an Air Force retiree who volunteers with the organization.

The deploying Soldiers also chipped in to assist in deployment operations. Besides loading their own luggage, when one of the aircraft required a tire change, Soldiers helped carry and mount a spare, supervised and assisted by Air Force and Army specialists.