LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE)- Saturday afternoon, more than 13-hundred members of the Kentucky National Guard said goodbye to loved ones before heading off to Iraq.
They are the 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade. They will take part in Operation New Dawn, supporting the withdrawal of US forces in Iraq.
Saturday afternoon began with more than a thousand empty seats.
"It's hard to say goodbye" Rhonda Perry told WAVE 3.
Those seats filled up with the largest deployment of Kentucky National Guard troops since World War II.
"It's something that you just can't prepare for." Cortney Sturgill said.
The soldier's families gathered to say goodbye to 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade before they deploy to Iraq.
Twenty-one year old Courtney Sturgill's husband is deploying for the first time.
"I'm going to be by myself." Sturgill said "I don't' know how often I'll get to talk to him. He's going to be missing her birthday, missing his birthday, her first Christmas." She said.
Twenty-two-year-old Rhonda Perry says she'll try to make the best of her husband's time away.
"Getting care packages ready for daddy and writing daddy and hopefully talking to him on the internet." She said.
The Brigade of more than 1, 300 troops will be performing security operations in Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn. They could be gone up to 400 days.
"It's the wrapping up of operations in Iraq." Sergeant First Class Charles Newt said "We hope to be able to turn over everything and be out of there by the end of the year."
WAVE 3 found 19-year-old Flory Aqua still sitting in her High School graduation gown. She graduated from Seneca High School Saturday afternoon.
"Honestly, its bittersweet." She said "I graduated and I get to say bye to someone I love."
Instead of a day full of joy, she's saying goodbye to her boyfriend who is deploying to Iraq.
"It's hard, but I have to be strong for him." She said.
Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear offered these words of encouragement
"Our hopes and our prayers and our thoughts will be with you each and every day." He said.
Family members echoed the same sentiment
"Just stay safe and hurry home." Sturgill said.