About 500 soldiers had left on commercial airliners by late afternoon and waves of them were scheduled to keep leaving through the weekend. In all, about 4,000 soldiers from in the division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team were headed to the region.
At neighboring Pope Air Force Base, soldiers wearing desert tanuniforms and carried their M-4 carbines, bayonets, helmets and gasmasks marched single file to the awaiting planes.
Few family members came to see their loved ones depart becausemost had said their goodbyes earlier.
Spc. Ray Underwood, 29, of Clarkson, Neb., said deploying for apossible combat zone has been on his mind since terrorist attackson Sept. 11, 2001.
"It's been a reality for me every since then," said Underwood,whose specialty is military intelligence.
"I'm a little nervous," said Sgt. Christian Grau, 23, of Ft.Lauderdale, Fla. "I just had a son. He's 5-1/2 weeks old. I'm justhoping I come back in time to hear his first words and see himcrawl."
Soldiers fiddled with their equipment and ate free hot dogsprovided by the Army while they waited for their airliners. Onesoldier strapped a "Jimmy Dean" - a plastic wrapped tray ofsnacks for the flight - onto his backpack.
Sgt. Michael Commander, 23, of Hartsville, S.C., said he hadbeen to Bosnia where he saw people living outdoors - something thatmade him appreciate his home. But he hadn't been in combat.
Commander said the main threat from Iraq was chemical orbiological attacks.
"We've got equipment to help us take care of that," saidCommander, a field artillery fire director. "I'm nervous, but I'mgoing to rely on my equipment."
Soldiers had been issued new, lighter chemical protection suitsto replace the older, heavier models they had used in training. Theuniforms and boots were new, too.
Col. Arnold Bray, commander of the infantry troops in the unit,walked through the soldiers, talking to small groups. One soldiersat on a bench reading "Bullet proof Faith," a religious book.
Two soldiers played handheld video games to pass the time. Spc.Marcus Lewis, 21, of Louisville, Ga., said he had packed nearly 300spare batteries and hoped his family would mail him new gamecartridges for his Game Boy Advance.
Sgt. Seth Harvey, 23, of Hammond, La., just got back fromAfghanistan - where the 82nd has about 5,000 soldiers on duty -three weeks ago. His fluency in Arabic made him valuable for thisdeploy.
"In Afghanistan, that's a guerrilla war," Harvey said. "Thisis different. We're dealing with a large standing army and that isprobably a greater threat."
The 82nd Airborne Division continues to support combat operations in Afghanistan and Operation Enduring Freedom with Task Force Devil and the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment.