As the Iraq war begins its fifth year, NBC's Mike Taibbi has been following the stories of three soldiers from the Third Infantry Division who have just headed over as part of the continuing troop increase — one rookie and two young veterans putting their lives on the line who know they're joining a changing conflict that's just as dangerous as ever — if not more so.
On a sunny afternoon of good-byes at Fort Benning, Ga., an 8-year-old girl named McKenzie kept crying.
"I don't want my daddy to leave!"
But her daddy was leaving again, with the rest of the Third Infantry Division, and McKenzie already knew what fear and longing felt like and couldn't be comforted.
Captain Pancho Perez-Cruz has also been through this before, so he'd said his good-byes at home, now all business.
"Keep your head in the game," Perez-Cruz said, addressing some of his fellow soldiers. "Stay tight, do the right thing and we'll be all right.
His wife Jennifer is now taking care of their son Lucas on her own, and trying to take her husband's leaving in stride.
"We'll make it through," she says. "I'll see him soon and it will be over and we'll move on with our lives. We have so much to look forward to."
Another Iraq war veteran, Spc. Juan Delgado, was already thinking about the war and his fellow soldiers even as he wished the best for his fiance, Estefania Lopez.
"You know, she's going to be by herself, so hopefully she'll be OK," he says.
It's easy to see these scenes as emotionally overloaded. Families holding as tight to each other as they possibly can at the very moment they are getting ready to say goodbye. You could see that struggle in the faces of 19-year-old first-timer Josh James and his wife Kaylee, hugging their son Aaron and trying to find a way to say goodbye.
"It's a total mental change, you know? You go from being one person to another person instantaneously," Josh says.
Then it's a prayer for Josh and Juan and Pancho and all their buddies — and for the families now left behind to worry. And wait.
Mike and Producer John Zito will be embedded with the Third ID starting Friday, and will continue filing their "On the Line" reports from the war zone as well as from the homefront.