After a final round of hugs, kisses and tears from loved ones, a Marine brigade and 6,000 sailors set sail from two Southern California ports Saturday for the uncertain waters of the Middle East.

The largest Marine amphibious task force formed since 1965 steamed out of San Diego Bay and Long Beach aboard 13 ships for a voyage that will likely bring them to the troubled region shortly before a Jan. 15 United Nations deadline for an Iraqi withdrawl from Kuwait."Nobody got much sleep, we were up all night talking, having a few drinks, talking some more," said Becky Godoy, who traveled to the 32nd Street Naval Station in San Diego from Stockton to see her brother, Marine Staff Sgt. John Gonzales, sail off aboard the amphibious assault ship Tarawa.

"The kids don't really know what's going on," said Godoy. "They just know their dad is going away."

Gonzales and his fellow Marines were part of the 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, an amphibious force that includes 90 aircraft and a number of reserve units recently called to active duty at Camp Pendleton.

Their exact mission once they arrive in the Middle East is not known, but it is expected they would join the numerous other Pendleton leathernecks already dug into the Saudi Arabian desert.

"Our first mission is getting their safely, so we'll concentrate on that for now," said Adm. Stephen S. Clarey, the commander of the task force.

Most of the family members did not fear the worst, but were nervously aware their men were not off on an ordinary patrol.

"He's prepared to go, but its the unknown that makes you worry," said Cheryl Walker, whose son, Petty Officer Michael Walker, left on his second cruise. "Last year's (deployment) was just a lot of different ports to visit."

Walker said her son-in-law would sail for the Middle East from San Diego Dec. 8 aboard a cruiser.