The farewell ceremony held for the 76th Brigade Combat Team marked the largest deployment of Indiana National Guard soldiers since World War II and included roughly 50 soldiers from the Greencastle Armory.
"It was a good day," said Sgt. Christopher McFadden, 30, of Greencastle. "But it's hard to watch my family go through what they are going through."
McFadden says that ceremonies like the one that took place Wednesday are as meaningful for soldiers as they are for the families that they leave behind, but he asks that everyone at home do just one more thing.
"Don't forget about us," he said. "Don't stop sending letters even if it's to a soldier you don't know. Remembering that people back home are still thinking about you gets you by."
"It helps you get mentally prepared to go," said Spec. Brian Robertson, 33, who has been stationed at the Greencastle Armory since he enlisted two years ago. "It lets us know that people are behind us. We need our morale up or we'll be fighting a battle that we can't win."
Robertson says that though the ceremony is designed to prepare his family for the long separation, he is not sure that is really possible.
Dignitaries also delivered messages to the deploying soldiers and their families, thanking them for their sacrifice.
"Indiana loves the soldier and Indiana loves the soldier's family," said 6th District Congressman Mike Pence. "We who live under the protection of your loved ones will pray for you as well."
Along with gratitude came promises of support from elected officials who acknowledged both the emotional and financial hardship that many military families face during a deployment.
"We will do whatever needs to be done to take care of your families," said Congressman Joe Donnelley. "You can be at peace and do your job."
Congressman Brad Ellsworth echoed the sentiment, telling the soldiers and their families that his door is always open and reminded them that there were funds available to help if times get tough.
Seventeen-year-old Pvt. Kaleb Bluebaugh, the youngest member of Greencastle's 2nd Battalion, 150th Field Artillery watched Wednesday's ceremony and reflected, with pride, on the tradition he hopes one day to join.
"I joined knowing this is a reality," he said. "I hope we get this kind of ceremony when I go."
Glancing over the 3,400 soldiers and more than 20,000 friends and family members, he added, "It's an honor to even be in their presence."
After nearly two hours of emotionally charged speeches from military brass and elected officials, Gov. Mitch Daniels presented each member of the Brigade's combat seasoned leadership with an Indiana state flag. For several minutes, total silence pervaded the Dome. Finally, a single voice shouted, from the upper deck and echoed off the massive ceiling: "I love you Bradley."
Since Sept. 11, 2001, 13,000 Indiana National Guard soldiers have been deployed domestically or abroad, and according to Lt. Col. John Newman, Indiana soldiers represent the fourth largest contingent of National Guard troops serving in Iraq.
The U.S. Department of Defense reports that as of Dec. 31, 2007, 3,895 U.S. soldiers have been killed in the Iraq war, which began in March 2003.