JACKSONVILLE -- Hundreds of Marines are leaving our area for Iraq Thursday. It's an emotional day for Catherine Stouffer as her husband leaves to serve his country in Iraq for the second time. Mrs. Stouffer said, "We are just very proud of him and we love him very much and we want all these guys to come back safe and we're proud of all of them and we're proud to be Americans." Her husband hates to leave but lives to serve. Chief Warrant Officer Gary Stouffer said, "I dreamt of it as a kid -- serving in the Marine Corps -- as a kid and I'm living my dream. I love what I do and I'll stay a Marine until the day that I die." Not only is Officer Stouffer leaving his wife, he's also saying goodbye to two young children. Mrs. Stouffer said, "We draw lots of pictures so when dad comes home he has a book to look at and she keeps a journal." Officer Stouffer said, "This is the hardest one for me, as my children get older, it gets harder." More than 180 Marines are getting on these buses to head off to Iraq for operation Iraqi Freedom. They are scheduled to be back in March. Capt. Dev Spradin said, "Basically, what we're going to do over there is work on infrastructure. We're going to build roads, build bridges, harden defense positions for the Iraqi army and Iraqi police and our own coalition forces." Today was just the first wave of deployments. At least 300 more Marines will be heading off to Iraq through Saturday.
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