Long after the alert went out in August, then was withdrawn, then restored, the waiting and the uncertainty ended today for the members of the 290th Military Police Company when they reported to the Towson National Guard Armory for duty.
It is duty that will take them to Saudi Arabia and the prospect of war.
"I'm just glad the waiting game is over," said a guardsman named Roger, 25.
"I don't know how I feel about going, but I'm not very happy about leaving home, the people I love here," said Pat, 21, who works in his family's business in the area. "There is not a whole lot of flag-waving going on."
The flags will fly anyway as the 290th marches in a parade at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, past the old county courthouse in Towson. From there, the members will go to Fort Meade for further training before deployment to the Desert Shield operation in Saudi Arabia.
As American troop strength there has swelled, opinion polls and skepticism from a variety of civic leaders have suggested a change in the American mood from full support to doubts about the mission.
The 119 men and women of the 290th, under instruction to withhold their last names, were circumspect in their own opinions, saying only they would do their duty. But family and friends who dropped them off at dawn on Washington Avenue were more than willing to speak for them.
"I don't know what he's going over there for," said Virginia Dennis, after her son mounted the armory steps. At a recent family gathering, her son, a physical education teacher at Parkville Middle School, had tried to explain his mission to the family. "He said he'll go over there and do what he's supposed to do, come back and still be treated like a black man," Dennis said.
Another family, the Raabs, just wanted President Bush to do it right, with full application of American military might, instead of the gradual escalation of the Vietnam war. "I only have one message for President Bush: Don't make this another Vietnam," said the mother, Mary Raab.
Although Guard troops and reservists have been drilled and trained for the possibility of war, some members of the 290th were a bit stunned that this goodbye outside the armory was for real.
Driving in from Cecil County today, Paul, 25, was stopped by a policeman for speeding. "I can't believe I got a ticket," he said, still tearful. "I was broken up about leaving the family, wasn't paying attention. He didn't want to hear it."
Mike, 58, a bus driver, said he was glad he was needed. "I like the discipline of the military because I'm an old-timer," he said, noting he had been through this drill in the Korean War. "My wife told me I was kind of excited."
Soon the unit was alone together, standing at attention inside the armory. "You ready for this mission?" their sergeant demanded. The soldiers screamed as one: "Ready, First Sergeant!"