ANDREW LEIBENGUTH/TIMES NEWS Specialist Craig Welsh, 25, left, and PF2 Donald Fernandes, 22, both of Summit Hill, pack their alice packs Tuesday morning prior to the departure.
It was an emotional send off this morning in Hometown as hundreds of family, friends, firefighters and community members got up early to show their appreciation to the Pennsylvania Army National Guard (Company C, 1st Battalion, CAB, 109th Infantry Regiment, PAARNG) as they set off for deployment.
In addition to many family members and friends inside the armory, the main intersection (SR309 and SR54) in Hometown was an active area with fire trucks, banners, flags and community members shining flashlights at 5:30 this morning. Company C drove under a very large flag raised into air by the Tamaqua and Coaldale Fire Departments' ladder trucks.
"It was well worth getting up at 4 a.m. and having my 8 and 10 year old sons get showered and ready for school," said Tori Anne Sieger of Tamaqua. "It was their decision to get up early and participate and show love and support."
"Glad I was able to go and send them off, said Jean Tyson of Tamaqua. "God bless these heroes."
In addition to all the sirens and lights at the Hometown intersection, fire trucks escorted Company C all the way to Interstate 81 north.
"Makes me cry with happiness," said Tami Stewart of Brockton.
Todd Amos, firefighter with the Citizen's Fire Company of Middleport said, "We saw a few of the soldiers there and told them to be safe. We also thanked them and told them we were there to support them."
Taking part in the 5 a.m. send off were firefighters and fire police from Tamaqua, Hometown, Coaldale, Middleport, Lansford and Summit Hill. McAdoo Fire Company donated their large flag for the send off.
The unit, consisting of about 60 soldiers, is being deployed to Kuwait in December following two months of additional training in the States.
Sgt. Matt Jones, a media specialist for the National Guard in Harrisburg, confirmed that these soldiers are being deployed to Kuwait on what he described as a "contingency mission" with the Heavy Combat Brigade Team. The unit was originally told it would be deployed as far back as January 2011. The mission was eventually moved to January 2012 and then to October.
Jones added that Kuwait is considered a stronghold due to the unrest in the Middle East and it warrants U.S. troop presence.
Another National Guard unit based in Hazleton, Alpha Troop, 2nd Squadron, 104th Cavalry, will join the 56th Striker Brigade Combat Team that is scheduled for deployment to Afghanistan sometime in early 2014, according to Jones.
"I am motivated to serve and, of course, come home," said Specialist Craig Welsh, 25, of Summit Hill.
Dignitaries were also present during the send off, to include local veteran's organizations, Schuylkill County Commissioner George Halcovage and state Rep. Jerry Knowles.
"It is amazing how young some of these soldiers are," said Knowles. "We appreciate the sacrifices they give to us. Especially being away from their family and friends."
"Our first boots are expected to be on the ground by Dec. 1," said Company C's First Sergeant Michael Schmid.
"My children and I are honored to have made it this morning," added Sieger. "We hope they have a welcome home event as well!"