OTIS AIR BASE -- Staff Sgt. John Moore had been waiting for this day since he enlisted in March 2001, following his brother's example to do his part in the Massachusetts Air National Guard.
But standing in formation Friday inside a Joint Base Cape Cod hangar, Moore, 47, found himself torn between his first deployment and the wife and twin sons he will be leaving back home in Canton. Wearing camouflage pajamas with "Wildly Cute" embroidered on the name tag, one of the twins, 9-month-old Nicholas, fiddled in his stroller with an American flag as his father and 30 other airmen were honored in a send-off ceremony.
The 31 airmen, all in the 212th Engineer Installation Squadron, will leave later this month for Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, where their mission is to install, design and upgrade communications infrastructure before returning home in late November.
"It's pretty much what you practice for your whole career, so it's a nice thing to do," Moore said of his coming deployment. "But your family is on your mind, too. I'll miss their first birthday, their first words and, probably, their first steps."
He will see them on Skype, but it won't be the same.
"That part is tough," he said, after handing his wife a blue star banner -- a symbol of a family member serving -- to hang in the window while he is away.
In his remarks, Col. James M. LeFavor, commander of the 102nd Intelligence Wing, said more than 2,400 airmen have been activated and deployed since 2008.
"This wing deploys quite a bit. ... We are so much more operational than Reserve that we should probably have our descriptor -- Reserve -- changed to something like 'just about as operational as active-duty,'" he said.
Comparing the wing to Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli, Brig. Gen. Gary Keefe said the airmen roll their sleeves up and "get down to the job" without asking for praise. He told them not to be distracted by sequestration and ongoing defense cuts.
"Forget about all that. What's important is that there's a war going on, and people are going into harm's way," Keefe said. "What's important is coming back home."
The deployments, LeFavor said, have put families through long separations that are never easy, leaving loved ones to run households and shovel snow-covered driveways on their own.
"Being gone for six months is tough, really tough," LeFavor said. "But I want you to realize you're not alone. So use us. If you ever need us, call us and get us on the phone. That's what we are: a family."
When he asked family members to stand up for a round of applause, one the mothers to rise from the seats was Susan Finneran, who drove from Worcester to see her son, Tech. Sgt. Christopher Finneran, sent off for a third deployment.
"It never gets easy," she said. "You always want to know how they're doing. You don't hear from them right away. You try not to watch the news. You figure no news is good news, right?"