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VILSECK, Germany — With a rainy, pre-dawn muster and little fanfare, the soldiers of Troop L, 3rd Squadron, on Monday started the clock on their deployment to southern Afghanistan — likely among the last U.S. combat tours planned for the region.

Part of the larger 2nd Cavalry Regiment, soldiers with Troop L are slated to spend the next nine months working alongside military advisers in Kandahar province, as well as shuttering U.S. outposts in preparation for the end of coalition combat operations in 2014.

It’s a big picture made of innumerable small steps, as soldiers were reminded Monday.

Before boarding a plane at Ramstein Air Base, they spent hours on final tasks, from drawing weapons to receiving malaria pills and having official photographs made.

Their goodbyes came earlier in the night or over the past weekend, when many spent time with family, phoned parents back home or discovered other means of preparing for the pressures downrange.

“Everyone copes with it in their own way, somehow,” said 1st Lt. Stuart Vaughn, a platoon leader.

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