Surrounded by a circle of family, friends and flags, the 88 soldiers of the 181st Infantry unit of the National Guard gathered in Cambridge Common for a send-off ceremony before being deployed to Iraq Sunday.

Surrounded by a circle of family, friends and flags, the 88 soldiers of the 181st Infantry unit of the National Guard gathered in Cambridge Common for a send-off ceremony before being deployed to Iraq Sunday.

“Gentlemen, we are Charlie Company. We are firefighters, teachers, EMTs, engineers, students, tradesmen and law enforcement officers,” said Capt. Eric DiNoto, during his speech. “Let’s make our mark, get it done and get back home soon.”

DiNoto has been in the military for almost 20 years and said he is excited to lead his unit on its mission. “I feel great, ready to go. We have the proper equipment and all the talent to make this happen,” he said.

The ceremony had a theme of support and encouragement — the only sign of a protestor was one man with a sign that read, “He Lied, They Died.”

During the company’s yearlong tour of duty, DiNoto said what he will miss the most was his family.

“Families, you, too, are Charlie Company,” he said, during his speech. “Recognize and nurture the strength you possess.”

Many of the ceremony’s speakers had words of encouragement for the soldiers' families.

“Reach out to the family support program,” said Brigadier Gen. Oliver Mason. “Do not feel that you are alone.”

Mayor Ken Reeves told families to keep in touch as often as possible. “This is an opportunity for families to be as close as they can be,” he said.

Hours before their loved ones departure, most family members of the soldiers appeared optimistic.

“I’m sad he’s going, but I’m proud of him,” said DiNoto’s sister, Debbie Schlehuber. “He’s smart, and I’m pretty confident that he’ll do what he’s there to do and come home safely and keep his men safe.”

The majority of the 181st unit left for Iraq on Sunday, but military policemen Aaron Reis and David Kerr were last-minute additions to the deployment and will not leave until Friday.

“We have a few days to get our stuff together, you know, finances, bills, car payments,” said Reis, 23, of Dartmouth.

Reis said he joined the National Guard because he thinks that’s what everybody should do. “If you want the rights of being a citizen, you should have to join,” he said.

Kerr, 23, of Dedham is leaving behind his girlfriend, Charlene. They’re expecting their first child in September.

“I’m upset,” Charlene said, “but we’ll get through it.”

The 181st Infantry is one of the five oldest units in the United States military, and this deployment marks the first time the entire unit has been sent to Iraq. The soldiers are expected to return next July.