FORT MEADE -- Four-year-old Allen Taylor III wandered sheepishly through a crowd of giants in camouflage battle fatigues yesterday to find his daddy. He needed to tell him one last thing before he left again.
With a little help, Allen found the right soldier in the crowd. As Sgt. Allen Taylor Jr. leaned down, his son wrapped an arm around his neck, whispered something in his ear and kissed him on the cheek.
"That's the toughest thing," said Sergeant Taylor, 25, originally of Chesapeake, Va. "Being away from my family, that's the toughest."
Sergeant Taylor, an assistant squad leader in the 293rd Military Police Company who returned from Panama just over a month ago, was one of nearly 300 men and women at Fort Meade who were bid a tearful farewell by family and friends yesterday as they shipped out for Saudi Arabia.
"He doesn't understand why his daddy has to go, why he can't be with us," explained Sergeant Taylor's wife, Alicia R. Taylor, 25, also of Chesapeake. "Allen's kind of close to his daddy."
The 519th Military Police Battalion -- made up of the 293rd and 209th military police companies -- was the latest Maryland-based unit to be dispatched to bolster the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Desert Shield. The troops departed safely yesterday from Andrews Air Force Base at 8:10 p.m.
Like many spouses at Fort Meade, Mrs. Taylor is used to saying goodbye. Sergeant Taylor spent a year in Panama before returning, only to be sent off again, this time to Saudi Arabia.
"He was here about a month, and he's gone again. But I've learned to handle it, with him being gone a year. I've learned to take it in stride," Mrs. Taylor said, as she cradled the couple's daughter, Alexis, who turns 2 next month.
"I'm holding back my tears for later, when I'm
alone," said Mrs. Taylor.
The 519th's departure yesterday was a poignant scene -- between fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, and soldiers, spouses and lovers -- that has been repeated time and again since wars began.
Stephanie M. Vazquez, 19, stood in the midafternoon sun, the tears streaming down her face as she waved to her husband, Spec. Santiago C. Vazquez Jr., 21, of the 209th, aboard one of the four buses.
"We're just so close," Mrs. Vazquez said, wiping the tears from her eyes, only to have them fill back up again instantly. "We've been married a little over a year."
But she saw to it that her husband left well-stocked for his desert tour of duty. "Most of the weight in his bag, I think, was candies, cakes, Cokes and, of course, cigarettes," said Mrs. Vazquez, formerly of Staten Island, N.Y.
"All the men are happy to go -- for America. They're really psyched up to go," Mrs. Vazquez said. "What's hard about all this is that it's been dragging on for a month now. I don't think anyone thought the day would
come that they would leave."
A calm Vicki L. Sommerville, 22, who has lived through this -- and worse -- before, stood next to Mrs. Vazquez, trying to console her best friend.
"It gets easier," said a dry-eyed Mrs. Sommerville, the mother of four children, all under the age of 4.
Her husband, Spec. Steven L. Sommerville, 21, also of the 209th Military Police Company, was shot in the shoulder during the Panama invasion and sent home.
But despite that, Mrs. Sommerville, originally of Indianapolis, said, "I just feel real confident because of the guys he's going with, with the leadership he's going with."
Maj. Daniel M. Quinn, the 519th Military Police Battalion's executive officer who accompanied the troops yesterday, said that families left behind at Fort Meade have had two briefings about what's facing their loved ones overseas and will have family support groups watching out for them until the soldiers return -- a time that is not yet known.
Major Quinn said that once the MPs arrive in the Middle East, they will provide security at key U.S. and Saudi facilities and for convoys, be responsible for troop vehicle traffic control and routing, and be the Army's law enforcement arm both on and off base.
"Everybody's up and ready for it," Major Quinn said.
That enthusiasm was clear yesterday, as Fort Meade's garrison commander, Col. Thomas R. Mann, gave the troops a pep talk.
Colonel Mann joked with the troops about being members of the "frequent flier" program that has taken some units of the 519th to Panama twice, into Honduras and now into Saudi Arabia. He reminded the troops to take care of each other, to support the other soldiers there, and to write home -- often.
"We wish you well. We wish you Godspeed," he said. "Good luck."
After Sergeant Taylor's bus pulled out, Mrs. Taylor held Alexis tight and said to a stranger, "We'll be all right. We're trusting and praying to God."