Families waved goodbye to their loved ones serving in the Navy on Wednesday morning when about 400 sailors were deployed from Florida's Naval Station Mayport just 13 days before Christmas.
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"It's a hard time," sailor Brandon Sanderson told Jacksonville's ActionNewsJax, pausing as he was overcome with emotion. "Sorry. Seven months though, seven months. We'll be back."
Tearful goodbyes from the pier were a common sight.
Sanderson was one of the approximately 400. He left warm wishes with his four daughters, wife and mother Wednesday morning.
“Our whole family, church family at Christ Church we’re just praying for him,” said Sanderson's wife. “And (we) look forward to him coming home soon. We’re just counting the days.”
They’re deploying in support of maritime security operations, crisis response and theater security cooperation. They’ll also provide a forward naval presence in Europe and the Middle East. Sanderson said these days are never easy, but he remains focused on his mission.
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“Make it all back alive,” he said. “See our family, friends, loved ones and everything, and get on about our day.”
More than 4,500 sailors and Marines will deploy in the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group, and 22nd Marine Expeditionary Group will deploy next week to meet the ship.
“Gotta be there to support one another,” said Sanderson. “That’s why we’re here, (to) support the country, support one another.”