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350 Fort Bragg soldiers deploy to Afghanistan

About 350 Fort Bragg soldiers left for Afghanistan late Sunday, bolstering local forces in the country.

The soldiers, with the 4th Brigade Combat Team and the 18th Airborne Corps, were waiting for their deployments at Pope Field's Green Ramp, after having spent some of the final hours in country with family and friends.

Some of the soldiers gathered around televisions tuned to Sunday night's NFL playoff game between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers. Others rested or spoke with friends about the deployment.

"We're just ready to get down range and do our jobs," said Maj. Brenda Spence of the 18th Airborne Corps.

Spence, from Florida, said she bid her family farewell over the holidays. She was spending her final moments before the flight chatting with her colleague, Maj. Chris Gibson.

Gibson, also from Florida, said he said goodbye to his family earlier in the day.

His children, ages 9 and 7, are old enough to understand that he will be gone, he said. But that doesn't make the deployment any easier.

"I'm ready for it," Gibson said. "I want to get it over with."

Both Spence and Gibson will be making their fifth combat deployment. They were part of a 150-soldier contingent from the corps that left Sunday.

In all, about 500 soldiers from the 18th Airborne Corps will serve in Afghanistan, establishing the core of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command.

The other 200 or so soldiers deploying Sunday were part of the first wave of troops to deploy from the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

By week's end, an estimated 450 troops from the battalion will have deployed, officials said. The battalion will provide base and convoy security for U.S. and NATO forces.

The battalion last deployed in 2012, but many who deployed Sunday were going overseas for the first time.

Pfc. Justin Begin of New Hampshire was one of the soldiers preparing for his first deployment.

"I'm nervous," Begin said. "I don't know what to expect, but I am excited to get over there."

Begin was sitting next to Spc. Brian Catello, who is deploying for the second time.

Catello, of California, said the battalion was ready.

"It's what we signed up for," he said.

In Afghanistan, the soldiers who left Sunday will join hundreds of others from Fort Bragg, including another battalion from the 4th Brigade Combat Team.

Last month, about 450 paratroopers from another 4th Brigade Combat Team unit deployed to Afghanistan. The soldiers, part of the 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, are helping to train Afghan security forces, officials said.

The deployments are the last for 4th Brigade before it is disbanded later this year as part of an Army reorganization. Then, most of its battalions will be placed under other 82nd Airborne Division units.

The 4th Brigade was formed in 2006 but has deployed repeatedly over its short history. The latest deployments mark the fifth time elements of the brigade have deployed.

Additional Fort Bragg units in Afghanistan include the 82nd Sustainment Brigade and 1st Theater Sustainment Command.

Other Fort Bragg units, including special operations forces, also are deployed. And last month, officials announced that about 3,200 soldiers with the 1st Brigade Combat Team will deploy later this year.

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