Maryland soldiers prepare to deploy from Aberdeen Proving Grounds to join ongoing U.S. operations in the Middle East.
The boy put on his red Superman cape, loaded foam darts into his Nerf gun, and prepared to follow his daddy off to war.
"Can I go?" 5-year-old Amir Carter asked his father.
Army Spc. Zedleur Addison bent and hugged his son Sunday in the crowded armory at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
"It's hard," the Edgewood soldier said later. "He doesn't quite understand."
Nearly 200 Maryland National Guardsmen parted with their families at the base in Edgewood Sunday, boarded buses and left for a month's training in Fort Hood, Texas. They are scheduled to serve nine months in the Middle East.
The headquarters unit of the 29th Combat Aviation Brigade will coordinate Army aircraft — helicopters, airplanes, drones — for other soldiers on the front lines in the defense of Kuwait and the fight against the Islamic State.
"Be vigilant," Maj. Gen. Linda Singh, commander of the Maryland National Guard, told the soldiers. "Don't get complacent. Because even though we're going to places that may seem very mild, they are not."
The deployment will bring to about 500 the number of Maryland Army National Guardsmen overseas, Col. Charles Kohler said. He said the mission further reveals the evolution of the National Guard into roles of increasing responsibility as defense officials draw down the number of active-duty troops overseas.
Earlier this month, a small Maryland unit of special forces guardsmen was deployed, Kohler said. In late October, about 200 Marylanders with the 29th Infantry Division headquarters headed overseas.
Three weeks before that, nearly 300 airmen from the 104th Fighter Squadron were sent to aid in the fight for Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city.
The Islamic State captured Mosul in a lightning advance in summer 2014. U.S.-backed Iraqi government troops announced this month they had wrested Eastern Mosul from the militants. Western Mosul remains under Islamic State control.
"Once again, we're here sensing the nervous energy of the unit about to board the buses and depart and go do the mission they've been planning for and training for, for over a year now," Brig. Gen. Timothy Gowen told the crowd.
"Thank you for allowing your citizen soldiers to continue to serve," he told family members. "I can assure you that this is a very vital and important mission, and that your soldiers — your daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters — will be well trained and well prepared."
Col. Mark Beckler, commander of the 29th Combat Aviation Brigade, also reassured the tearful Maryland families.
"Let me reiterate, our most solemn duty is to get home about a year from now," he said.
Back home, they had decorated a big mason jar with pictures of Addison. The jar holds 365 silver-wrapped Hershey's Kisses. Amir isn't usually allowed candy before bed, but each night during his father's year-long deployment, he will be permitted one chocolate good-night kiss from his father overseas.
Carter watched the soldiers board, wiped away her tears, then turned for the car with her son.
Amir followed with his head down, his red Superman cape blowing in the wind.