NAVAL STATION NORFOLK -- Family and friends gathered at Pier 11 on a cold Saturday to say goodbye to more than 4,000 sailors and marines.
The last time USS Bataan deployed crew members were gone for 322 days. Loved ones are hopeful that won't happen again.
"Sad," said Alexis Veitch, whose father left Saturday.
Veitch's mother, Patricia, asked, "Why are you sad?" to which Veitch replied, "Because Daddy's on the boat for a long time, and he's going to miss my birthday! You know!"
USS Mesa Verde accompanied the Bataan along with USS Gunston Hall. The Bataan Amphibious Ready Group will support maritime security operations and crisis support in case situations like the one involving Syria and chemicals weapons last years come up.
"Right now, we're not tasked with anything like that, but, of course, if something like that happens, then we respond to emergencies. America's 9-1-1 Force," said ARG Commander Captain Neil Karnes.
The departure of the ships means thousands of families are separated from their loved ones.
"Yes, sir it never gets easy. This is my eighth deployment right now. I don't care if it's your eighth or twelfth, or if it's your first one. It's certainly very challenging," said Captain George Vassilakis, Commanding Officer, USS Bataan.
Vassilakis' wife, Mary, was their with their daughter.
"Tough. He's going to miss her graduation and possibly taking her to college," explained Mary Vassilakis.
The 3 ships will carry the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit from Camp Lejeune.
"He's stoked. He's excited, so it makes it easier on a mom," shared Susan Tucker whose son is a marine. "He's super excited."
Families had advice on the best way to endure this long separation.
"Keep in touch. Have a good support system. Have a lot of people that will help you out, and you are good to go," said Patricia Veitch.