73 area soldiers won't be spending Christmas with their families this year...they're heading for Afghanistan.
Family members and friends packed Faith Family Church in North Canton on Sunday for the "Call to Duty" ceremony - for the Ohio Army National Guard's Company B, 3rd Battalion, 238th Aviation Regiment.
The unit is based in Green.
And the feelings were definitely mixed among family members of those who will eventually provide aviation support in Afghanistan.
"Actually seeing him go off like this makes me actually cry for sadness," the mother of Specialist Derek Groves tells AkronNewsNow.com, "but joy that he's protecting us, and doing what he loves."
The pride in their family members' service was tempered by realization that these soldiers won't be home for Christmas - this year, at least...their tour ends at this time next year.
That's a thought that's keeping many of these families going, as they say goodbye - for now - during the 2011 Christmas season.
"I'll be happy to see him when he gets back in a year," says a proud Duane Gimbush, father of Brandon Gimbush. "So this Christmas is good, and next Christmas wil be even better."
Dignitaries at the event included the woman at the head of the Ohio Army National Guard, Major General Deborah Ashenhurst. And she thanked families and employers for their support of the soldiers...and she, too, reminded them to look ahead.
"And what a wonderful way to send out this great group of soldiers," Major General Ashenhurst told the assembled crowd, "but won't it be great a year from now when we're here to welcome them back home."
It's a long journey ahead, says the unit's commander, Captain Tommy Morrison. "But I have no doubt that this group of men and women," he told those attending, "are ready to take the challenges that lay before us, and complete our mission to a standard that will bring great credit upon themselves, the unit, the Ohio National Guard, the United States of America, and their families and communities."
The local soldiers will mobilize later this month at Fort Hood in Texas, before deploying to Afghanistan early next year.
As for the families left behind, the Ohio Army National Guard's Family Readiness Program was praised for its efforts to support the families of deployed soldiers.