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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The surge of troops to Afghanistan has begun. Early this morning at Camp Lejuene, North Carolina, Marines from the 1st Battalion 6th Regiment said goodbye to their families and headed off. These Marines are the first wave of the additional 30,000 troops President Obama has ordered to Afghanistan.

Catherine Welch of member station WHQR was at Camp Lejuene as they shipped out.

CATHERINE WELCH: Outside the battalion's barracks, couples hug each other tightly, mothers and sons hold hands, clusters of Marines smoke and make small talk. Away from the crowd, Lance Corporal Nicholas Bouchard, drapes each arm around his parents, Debbie and Jeff, who are reluctant to let their son go.

Mr. DEBBIE BOUCHARD: It is. It's hard.

Ms. JEFF BOUCHARD: It's tough, it's tough. But we knew - we knew that it was coming, although we were hoping that it was to be after Christmas. But we know - we know the deal. He's got to do what he's got to do.

WELCH: The Bouchards folded Christmas into their Thanksgiving celebration back home in Newnan, Georgia. They put up a tree and gave their son his presents.

Lance Corporal NICHOLAS BOUCHARD (1st Battalion 6th Regiment): I ended up getting a new laptop which I'm not bringing with.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Lance Cpl. BOUCHARD: A portable iPod charger, which I will be bringing with, and money and gift cards that I've used.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WELCH: Fifteen hundreds Marines will leave Camp Lejuene before Christmas. Because this deployment came so closely after Thanksgiving break, many of the Marines leaving this morning don't have family to hug goodbye. That's not the case for Lance Corporal Clayton Blunt. His parents have brought his girlfriend along as their Christmas present for him. Blunt fidgets with a silver ring on his finger, one of the keepsakes he is taking.

Lance Corporal CLAYTON BLUNT (Squad Leader, Alpha Company): And I carry a notebook she and I share that we both write in. Every time we get to see each other, we write a little bit in there.

WELCH: Blunt is a squad leader for Alpha Company. This is his second deployment to Afghanistan, and having a sense of the country gives him peace of mind. Although this time the weather will be different.

Lance Cpl. BLUNT: It's going to be cold. It's already snowing there, so we've been outfitted with all this cold-weather gear.

WELCH: Like Blunt, half of this Camp Lejuene battalion has already been to Afghanistan. Major Heath Henderson says that experience will give them the edge.

Major HEATH HENDERSON (1st Battalion 6th Regiment): That we accomplish our mission and whichever part of Afghanistan we go to is better off from us having been there.

(Soundbite of engine)

WELCH: It's a few minutes past midnight when a line of charter buses rolls in. This unit heads to Afghanistan after watching other Marine battalions return home with mounting casualties. Lance Corporal Bouchard has faith that his training will keep him alive. He hugs his mom and then his dad and then he boards the bus.

Ms. BOUCHARD: He's smart. He's learned all he can learn, and he'll put that to use now. And he'll go over there and do what he's been assigned to do and he'll come home to us safe and sound.

WELCH: Until then, their plan is to follow the progress of the surge. As the buses round the corner, the Bouchard's grab a hold of each other and quietly walk back to their car.

For NPR News, I'm Catherine Welch.

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