They held American flags and poster boards decorated with glitter and hearts.
They put their hands to their chests, trying to control the swell of emotions, the immense pride tinged with anxiety, uncertainty.
And they tried to hold back tears. Many could not.
Family and friends on Tuesday morning said their goodbyes to 600 Florida National Guard soldiers headed to Iraq as part of the 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment. The ceremony was inside a hangar at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
"I'm very proud, and it's very heartbreaking, too," said Sharon Poore, 56, of Okeechobee.
For her son, Sgt. 1st Class Jason Poore, 32, of Fort Lauderdale, this will be his second tour in Iraq.
Poore and other soldiers from throughout the state flew out of Fort Lauderdale for two months of training at Fort Hood, Texas. From there, they head to Iraq, where they will be guarding military convoys. They are scheduled to remain in the country for a year.
"This is an infantry unit, so they're good at securing things," said Air Force Lt. Col. Ron Tittle of the Florida National Guard. "They're combat soldiers."
State officials said the battalion's orders to Iraq are part of the Florida National Guard's largest single-unit deployment since World War II. In total, about 2,500 Florida National Guard members will be serving in Iraq and Kuwait, all of them leaving Florida this week.
The 1st Battalion, 124th Regiment, was among the first American forces to enter Iraq in April 2003 for Operation Iraqi Freedom, in which they participated for about five months. The soldiers had little time to train and prepare for that mission. This time, they received word of their deployment about nine months in advance and did weekend drills and intensive field training at Camp Blanding in North Florida.
The unit was also activated in the summer of 2004 to assist with hurricane recovery efforts after four storms smacked the state in less than two months.
Now, the unit has been tasked with being among the last American units out of Iraq; President Barack Obama's plan is for most American troops to be out of that country by the end of this year.
"I know they're blessed. I'm very proud," said Jose Jimenez, of Kendall, who bid farewell to his son, Spec. Anthony Jimenez, 19.
Gov. Charlie Crist also attended the ceremony and told soldiers that they are "true heroes to us all."
Most of the men and women of the Florida National Guard have careers outside of the service that they've put on hold. The careers vary widely, with police officers, teachers, hospitality workers and students among the ranks.
When the ceremony was over, family and friends braced for what would be their last hugs and kisses with their loved ones for quite some time.
"It hurts," said Sgt. Richard Taylor, 35, of Orlando, as he held one of his toddler daughters on his arm; a second young daughter clung to his leg.
Unsure of how best to explain his absence, he chose to tell the girls: "I'm going to work for a long time."
Sofia Santana can be reached at svsantana@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4631.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun