For Susan Sellner of Columbia, what might have been a weekend of shopping and holiday preparations was instead a time to send her 24-year-old daughter off to war in Afghanistan.
Sellner, 56, was part of a small crowd of family members and loved ones who gathered in Baltimore Sunday morning to say goodbye to 40 members of the U.S. Army's 203rd Military Intelligence Battalion, which is mobilizing for deployment to Afghanistan and Iraq next month.
"I was real proud of her for wanting to sign up," Sellner said of her daughter, Spec. Melissa Frydrych, a 2008 graduate of Towson University. Still, she said, as the time comes to actually send her child off with her unit, "you're still a little anxious for her, for the traveling, the newness and the dangers that could be there.
"I'm going to miss her, but I think it's a good opportunity," Sellner said.
The Army Reservists of Detachment 26 and their loved ones came from all across the country to the Radisson Plaza Lord Baltimore Hotel for a weekend of briefings and bonding, promotions and awards, ending with a mobilization ceremony attended by Gov. Martin O'Malley.
The governor thanked the soldiers — 15 from Maryland — and their families for their service and sacrifice.
"Please know that there are people throughout our state that are going to be praying for these men and women every single day," he said. "Our country has no greater strength than you. … I'm looking forward to being here when you come back."
After the ceremony, the unit was bused to Fort Dix, N.J., for five weeks of further training before flying overseas. They'll get four-day passes to return home for Christmas if they can. For the rest, it may mean Christmas in New York City — or in Atlantic City, "just to have a good time, one last hurrah" before deployment, said Maj. Annamarie B. Daneker, spokeswoman for the Military Intelligence Readiness Command.
Frydrych, a criminal justice major at Towson, said she was headed for Camp Phoenix, in Kabul, Afghanistan, where she will be engaged in "Rule of Law" activities. "That's pretty much all I know. I don't have a job description yet," she said.
It's her first overseas deployment. "Right now I'm excited," she said. "I want to be able to do what I was trained to do. I hope to be doing intelligence work, but wherever they need me, that's what I'll do."
Maj. Randall McCauley, an operations officer with the 203rd, said some members of the detachment will assist Afghan police and courts "implement and enforce Afghan law."
Others will be assisting with six separate missions being outlined for them, including the interrogation of Afghan detainees.
Spec. Yuan Tian, 22, a Columbia resident just short of a bachelor's degree in philosophy at the University of Maryland, said: "My goal is to have a new experience in life. I'm not really worried or scared. It's a good opportunity." He hopes his overseas deployment, and his fluency in Chinese, might help lead to a career in intelligence, perhaps with the FBI or CIA.
Two members of the detachment, including Sgt. Chad Hare, 27, of Syracuse, N.Y., will be deploying to Iraq. Hare returned in June after serving eight months with another detachment of the 203rd, doing weapons intelligence work — developing forensic information from insurgents' weapons and explosive devices.
With a 7-year-old son to provide for, the self-employed gun dealer concluded that another reserve deployment would help cover health insurance and pay for other family needs. "I also want to help newer soldiers coming in for deployment," Hare said. "I'll mentor some, and give them some insights we didn't have."
His son, Austin, dressed up for the day in a jacket and tie, was less enthusiastic. For him, his dad's deployment was no cause for celebration. "Bad," he said. "Terrible."
"It's not easy for him," Hare said. "But I think he's going to be a soldier, too." Austin nodded in the affirmative.
Hare's parents said they supported their son's decision to go back to war. "We were more anxious last time," said Craig Hare, 53, of Syracuse. "I think we're seeing Iraq calming down."
For the Army Reserves, this will be the 10th consecutive year of combat operations, said Brig. Gen. James V. Young Jr., commander of the Military Intelligence Readiness Command. "The Army Reserves has never faced a greater challenge," he told his troops.
"You are preparing to deploy to a tough place, against a determined enemy and the original battlefield after 9-11," he said. "Today, while others are preparing to enjoy the long weekend, doing Christmas shopping, or hunting or fishing, or watching the Ravens, you prepare to deploy to combat. You know the meaning of duty."