Paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division began heading out Thursday for Kuwait to join thousands of United States forces already massed for a possible conflict with Iraq.

About 500 soldiers had flown out on commercial airliners by late afternoon and waves of them were scheduled to depart through the weekend. In all, about 4,000 soldiers from the division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team were headed to the region.

Few family members were present because most had said their goodbyes earlier.

Spc. Ray Underwood, 29, of Clarkson, Neb., said deploying for a possible combat zone has been on his mind since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"It's been a reality for me ever since then," said Underwood, whose specialty is military intelligence.

Sgt. Seth Harvey, 23, of Hammond, La., just returned three weeks ago from Afghanistan, where the 82nd has about 5,000 soldiers on duty.

"In Afghanistan, that's a guerrilla war," Harvey said. "This is different. We're dealing with a large standing army and that is probably a greater threat."