With hugs and tears to send them off, Kansas soldiers are on their way to keep the peace in Kosovo.
About 325 members of the Kansas Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 635th Armor took off Wednesday, after a deployment ceremony with a packed hangar at Topeka's Forbes Field.
The unit usually mans tanks, but this time it’s leaving them behind for a different mission.
"These are peacekeepers," said Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting, Kansas Adjutant General. He said the soldiers will help provide stability in Kosovo, making sure it's safe for people to move around the country.
"It's really important to keep the Balkans safe so people there who desired freedom all these years have a chance to see that happens and be sustained and not go back to tyranny and an oppressed way of live," Bunting said.
But even as they try to keep their game faces on, it's clear family is in their hearts.
"It's kinda hard to leave home again," said DuWayne Smart.
Smart has served in Bosnia and the first Gulf War, but this is the first time he leaves a wife and four-week old daughter at home.
"We're gonna miss him," said his wife, Becky. "We're proud of what he's doing."
Sgt. Jesse Lowe has three children.
"We'll be waiting for him," said his wife, Angela. "We'll miss him while he's gone."
Lowe left each child a teddy bear with a special message recorded on it. Oldest daughter Kaitlyn pressed her bear's paw to let us hear, "Hugs and kisses. Remember I love you."
After one last hug, one more kiss, and a final wave, the soldiers lined up for one last inspection and a bagpipe serenade before leaving their families behind. They'll head first to Ft. Lewis, Washington for training before heading overseas. Their entire deployment is set to last 18 months.
The unit is headquartered in Manhattan. It's their first overseas mobilization since World War II.
Nearly 2,000 Kansas Army National Guard soldiers are either deployed or mobilized for service overseas. That's about 40-percent of the state's 6,000 Guard members.