Family members said somber good-byes Monday to more than 8,000 sailors assigned to the USS Nimitz as it departed on a mission that will bring the aircraft carrier within striking distance of Iraq.

While tears flowed as sailors left their loved ones, many carried personal items, including stuffed animals, to help ease the transition.

Lt. Will Watty, from Atlanta, carried a 6-foot surfboard with him in hopes of catching some waves in Hawaii.

The decks of the giant warship were lined bow to stern with formations of waving sailors as she pulled out of port at 9:15 a.m.

Loudspeakers on the ship played the song "Hero" by Chad Kroeger from the "Spider-man" soundtrack. Someone shouted "God bless the Nimitz!" and relatives on the pier cheered and waved American flags.

"I'm so proud of him but it's sad to see him go," said Eliza Gilman, wife of Capt. Bob Gilman, the carrier's commanding officer. The couple have lived through about eight deployments in their 25 years of marriage.

Angie Davis came to send off her husband, Cmdr. Mike Davis, and brought their three children, too. The couple has been married 18 years and it was the fourth farewell between them.

"I'm very proud of my husband," she said as she watched him walk away. "This one has been harder because we thought he's been going a couple of times."

Seaman David Wettstead, 21, of Vista was deploying about two months after his 19-year-old brother, Nathan, also a sailor, left for the gulf aboard the USS Duluth, an amphibious transport.

"It's going to be rough having two boys gone," said his mother, Marty Wettstead.

Wettstead joined the Navy in January 2002, explaining, "obviously, Sept. 11 had a huge impact on me."

The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and its eight-ship battle group will head to the Persian Gulf and join five other carrier battle groups. It will take at least a month for the battle group to reach the Arabian Sea, said Cmdr. Jacquie Yost, a Navy spokeswoman.

Shortly after it arrives in the region, the Nimitz will replace the USS Lincoln, based in Everett, Wash., Yost said.