After drawing his rifle and packing his rucksack, Spc. Hector Cornier lifted his namesake over his head and provoked a giggle from his 7-month-old son. But the tears Spc. Cornier was fighting back started to roll, reminding his wife this was not a happy moment.
"I'll be all alone here now," Mrs. Cornier said about her husband's year in Iraq. "I really can't prepare myself for this."
Like a growing number of military families, she is disturbed by President Bush's handling of the war, his decision last week to send more troops into Iraq and with what she says is the public's lack of understanding about the burden military families must bear.
"Enough is enough," Mrs. Cornier said.
"Why are they sending more soldiers in when they should be bringing them home?"
Meanwhile, in Washington, several active-duty service members presented Congress with the signatures of 1,000 military members who are calling for an end to the war.
Soldiers such as Spc. Boris Roberson, 26, of Screven, said he isn't ready to sign such an appeal, but he admits he is worried about his first combat tour.
"I've tried not to think about it, but the reality is starting to set in that I'm going over there," he said. "I'm just praying that we accomplish the mission and bring everyone home in one piece and alive."
Spc. Roberson, who is assigned to the 1st Battalion, 41st Field Artillery, has been relying on the advice of Iraq veterans in his unit to prepare for his tour. Still, he said he can see the deployments have affected them "mentally and emotionally," and he is worried about what effect his tour will have on him.
"I don't want to go, but that's just my personal opinion," he said.
His mother, Luvicy Roberson, along with family friend and Sunday school teacher L. Brock-Thomas, were at Fort Stewart to see him off.
Spc. Roberson's Sunday school teacher, who reminded him to pray three times a day in Iraq, said the war is beginning to look like Vietnam - a war in which several of her family members served.
"It reminds me of that because it lingered on so long and didn't seem like there was a way out," she said. "At first, I thought Bush was going to go in there like his father did, get the job done and get out. Not anymore."
One thing is clear to the soldiers preparing to deploy: 2007 will be a pivotal year in Iraq.
Staff Sgt. Jason Massey is beginning his third combat tour, leaving behind his wife and three young children. He knows what to expect, but he said he worries about some of the younger soldiers - especially those who joined his unit after missing a final combat exercise in October.
"They're basically going straight from basic training right into Iraq," he said.
Staff Sgt. Massey said he's holding out hope that conditions in Iraq will improve, but his patience with the Iraqis and a civil war now gripping that nation is wearing thin.
"Hopefully they'll start managing things themselves so we can get out of there," he said. "They have a lot of issues they need to work out. I think Iraq is going to have to solve its own issues in the end.
"There's nothing we can do if they can't learn to get along."
On Thursday night, 1,100 soldiers with the 1st Brigade Combat Team flew out of Hunter Army Airfield. They'll be followed later this year by the 3rd Infantry Division's three other combat brigades - deployments that have been hastened to meet President Bush's call for an escalation in troop levels.
The 3rd ID, which led the 2003 invasion into Iraq, is the first Army division to begin serving a third yearlong combat tour.