"We are proud and honored to be representing the patriotic families and communities of centeral and northeastern Pennsylvania," said First Sergeant Michael Schmid, during a deployment formation held Saturday for area soldiers deploying with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard (Company C, 1st Battalion, CAB, 109th Infantry Regiment, PAARNG) in Hometown.

"They are giving us our freedom," said Joe Shamonsky, Commander, Lansford American Legion Post 123, and a member of the Lansford Legion Riders, who also attended the briefing.

Shamonsky served as an Army medic during the Vietnam War.

"The military utilizes these guys (National Guard) too much," he added.

The unit, which will be leave for training early tomorrow morning, will be deploying to Kuwait in November or December. Soldiers estimate they will be there for about a year.

This would be the unit's third deployment following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The unit's two prior deployments stretched from 2004 to 2006 in Iraq and 2007 to 2008 in Afghanistan.

"We are here to support them," said Rae McLaughlin, Soldiers' Angels National Community Network coordinator.

"It is very hard to leave our families behind for so long," said SSgt. Tim Kromer of Palmerton, who has deployed three times with the unit. Coming home can be just as hard as leaving."

Kromer also serves as a police officer with the Palmerton Police Department. His brother, Leroy, is also being deployed and was part of the unit's advance team.

"We put the uniform on," said SSgt. Matt Frey of New Ringgold, after being asked why he does it.

"Deployment is very difficult for our family members left behind," said Sergeant First Class Paul Shutter of Lansford, whose last deployment was during the Gulf War.

"One soldier looked as if he just got out of high school," said Shirley Shamonsky of the Lansford American Legion Riders. "God bless them all and we all pray for a safe return."

The Pennsylvania National Guard (PNG) was founded in 1747 when Ben Franklin formed the Associators in Philadelphia. The Pennsylvania National Guard is comprised of both the PA Air National Guard (PaANG) and PA Army National Guard (PAARNG).

Kathy Kromer, cousin of Tim Kromer, said, "We are so proud of all these heroes!"

Talking to the troops after the briefing, Shenandoah American Legion member Leo Treschock, a Marine, said, "Without you we can't be here. We are a great and proud nation. Thank you."

Schmid added, "The Pennsylvania National Guard has been involved since the beginning."

The PNG consists of 19,000 members from both Air Force and Army units reaching about 90 communities across the commonwealth.

In time of war or national emergency, or in support of any military operation worldwide, the president can mobilize units of the Pennsylvania National Guard into active federal service. Pennsylvania units have taken part in every conflict America has faced, from the Revolutionary War through Operations New Dawn/Enduring Freedom, as well as ongoing peacekeeping missions in Kosovo, Bosnia, Egypt and elsewhere.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 17,000 Pennsylvania National Guard soldiers and airmen have deployed in support of the global contingencies.

In addition, the Pennsylvania National Guard continuously offers beneficial support to the civilian community, such as the counterdrug program, flooding and other natural disasters.

"They're answering the call again. Hopefully this is the last deployment for many years," said Joel Perry, Commander, Tamaqua American Legion, who also served in the Hometown National Guard. "Good luck and God Speed... We can't wait til they get back."

The PA National Guard, one of the largest in the United States, is one of the top 10 employers in the commonwealth, almost 3,500 of which are full-time; the remaining 15,500 are "traditional" Guard members who train on a part-time basis.

"What they do doesn't go unnoticed," added McLaughlin with tears in her eyes. "We love them!"

"In addition to every veterans organization in the area, our post will be taking care packages and 'nicities' for the unit," said Larry Patrol, member McAdoo VFW Post 6708. Patrol, who retired from the same unit in 2004, and served in the Gulf War.

"He doesn't know it yet, but I am getting a tattoo for him when he is gone," said Tim Kromer's sister Jen Kromer. "I am so proud of him."

Local veterans organizations are hoping the community comes out in support of the soldiers as they depart for training early tomorrow morning. They are asking that people stand along the intersection of SR54 and SR309 in Hometown from 5:15 to 5:45 a.m. to cheer on the soldiers as they turn north onto SR309 from SR54.

Ed Smith, 13th District Deputy Commander, American Legion, added, "We look forward to their safe return."

"It is like leaving for basic training," said PFC Cody Everitt, 19, of Palmerton. "Just a lot longer and much hotter."