EASTERN SAUDI ARABIA -- The Maryland soldiers laughed at first as they sat in the dusk of the desert watching a video of themselves marching in a farewell parades. They watched themselves hamming it up for the camera.
But as the camera and their families embraced them -- crying for them and touching them for the last time before they deployed for Saudi Arabia,the soldiers laughs gave way to tears.
The parades occurred Nov. 17 in Towson and Salisbury. The video that captured that day was shown Christmas Eve on a screen that was propped on boxes in the sand of the 400th Military Police Battalion Camp in Eastern Saudi Arabia.
When it was over, the captain assigned to the public affairs division who made the video was devastated by the sadness of the soldiers.
"I hope it didn't backfire," he said. "Oh boy, we screwed up!"
Several voices protested, "No, you didn't!"
Officers quickly stood to cheer the soldiers with the boast, "You are Marylanders at their best." And to assure them that everyone at home was praying for them.
The troops eventually cheered and laughed again. Then they rewound the videotape and watched it again.
Many soldiers find it hard to talk about home and family that are half a world away, much less see videos of their families and hometowns.
Some soldiers preferred sending and receiving letters to calling and hearing the voices of their loved ones.
The camp here has no phone. Soldiers walk across a street and a dirt playground, pass a mosque and go around a corner then by a grade school to reach a public telephone.
Each company has been allotted calling days. The way it works is that each soldier gets about one calling day a week. A soldier can wait as long as two hours for the chance of a 10-minute call home.
Spec. Kurt Mischke hung up from a recent phone call to his fiance. "I was worse off than before," he said. "I was in tears, to be honest."
Mischke, who was a Towson State University student before he was deployed, returned to his barracks and tried to calm down. His sergeant noticed that Mischke was troubled but was unable to console him. The sergeant sent for a lieutenant.
Mischke knew what the officer would say: Hang tight and be together with his family here until we get home.
Mischke said that the time it took to hear those words allowed him to regain control and resume his work fortifying the foxholes and sandbag bunkers along the camp perimeters.
Sgt. John Heavener, a meat cutter from Perry Hall, was the sergeant who had first noticed Mischke's distress.
"I miss my home as much," he said, "but it's more important that my mind be here than across the water."