Mid-Michigan Battalion Deploys to Training, Iraq

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The departure ceremony. It's a military event with the order and formality that comes along with anything done by the armed forces.

But for the 68 men and women of the Michigan Army National Guard's 146th Multi-Functional Medical Battalion headed for Iraq -- this is a ceremony injected with more emotion than most.

"I'm leaving behind my daughter Serena and my wife Victoria," Sgt. Steve Lischalk said. "For about 14 months to 16 months."

Like many of his fellow soldiers of the 146th, based near Grand Ledge in Clinton County's Eagle Township, Lischalk hasn't been to Iraq before. Neither has his wife, who also serves in the guard.

"We're never separated. We're in the guard together. We hunt together. We're always together," Victoria Lischalk said.

Now, they won't be together for a while.

"It'll be a long year," she said. "Hard ... very hard."

Some have more experience dealing with overseas deployment, like Lt. Mark Pratt's family. But that doesn't make it any easier.

"I'm more concerned about my family than myself ... leaving them this long," Pratt said.

Last time, he was in Iraq for just for a few months. Still he was away from his now 10-year-old daughter.

"I was younger then, so I was more sad ... now I'm a little more mature, I understand why he has to go," Emily Pratt said.

As ready as she can be for not seeing her father for at least a year.

A hardship for the spouses and children of these servicemen and women. Hardship matched only by that faced by soldiers. Hardship sometimes masked by humor.

"In about three weeks I'm going to miss a good steak," Steve Lischalk laughed. "I'm going to miss a hug and a kiss from this one," he said, pointing to his daughter. "That'll happen in 3 hours."

The troops are off to Ft. McCoy in Wisconsin for four to six weeks of training, then they'll head for Iraq, where they will administer all the military's medical operations in the country.