Fleetwood firefighter and EMT Sgt. Jeremy Emerich, 29, was among those honored at a parade in Hamburg on Sept. 21.Emerich has been a member of Fleetwood Volunteer Fire Co. for four years. When he is not fighting fires, he is a medical transporter.

He is a team leader for the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, based at the Pennsylvania Army National Guard's Hamburg barracks.

Hundreds of area residents filled into Hamburg on Sept. 21 to honor soldiers of the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team as they finally deployed for active duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The borough held a parade and then a proper send-off ceremony in front of the historic barracks as the soldiers joined the largest deployment of National Guard soldiers in military history.

The Stryker Brigade is likely to be fighting on the front lines when it eventually reaches Iraq at the beginning of 2009, operating the sophisticated, armored Stryker anti-tank unit, designed to mobilize soldiers on the battlefield while providing more realistic cover from the improvised explosives which have claimed many American lives during this war.

Stryker Brigade officially deployed on Friday, Sept. 19, and hosted a luncheon at the barracks that day for select local officials.

"Ultimately, it's a sense of relief," 1st Lt. Troy A. Beane said. "We've been preparing for this for two years. We spent long weeks and months away from our families, accumulating the knowledge to fight and win on today's asymmeticral battlefield."

Then, it was the community's turn to show its appreciation for these soldiers who only call the borough home when they assemble for various training sessions, but always have Hamburg on their mind.

"Your presence here speaks to your character and commitment to our community," Beane said.

The ceremony and parade was organized by Hamburg Lions Club, and was emceed by treasurer Kervin Kline, himself a Vietnam veteran.

"I think it was a success," Kline said following the ceremony. "You don't get many thank yous from home."

Christine Ryan led the ceremony is a singing of the National Anthem and the hundreds in attendance waved small American flags and homemade signs as country music star Lee Greenwood's version of "God Bless the USA" played over a loudspeaker. The crowd then sang a rendition of "God Bless America" before the end of the ceremony.

Rev. Fred A. Diehl, Hamburg, led the ceremony with opening and closing ceremonies.

"Nothing could be more important than joining with these guys right here," State Rep. Dave Argall (Rep., 124th) said during the ceremony. He then presented the soldiers with an official Pennsylvania flag for them to display while overseas.

State Rep. Tim Seip (Dem., 125th) also attended the event, and offered his unique perspective to the dedicated residents who turned out to support the troops before deploying.

"The commonwealth and this nation applaud your service," Seip said to the soldiers. "I couldn't give you guys advice on how to do your job. As a spouse of a soldier who did deploy to Iraq for a year. It's because of you (residents at home) that they are going to be successful on this mission if they have peace of mind that everything is taken care of at home."

Seip's wife, Starr, was deployed to Iraq when he ran for office two years ago.

Following the ceremony, several residents shared the idea that it didn't matter that the soldiers don't call Hamburg home.

"I don't know any of them, but it doesn't matter," Lisa Kolbe, Shoemakersville, said.

Her husband, Bryn, agreed.

"They are doing their job to protect us. Whether you believe in the war or not, they need our support," he said. "I hate the attitude that people aren't supporting the troops. They're standing up for our country."

The parade shuttled the soldiers on the backs of two truck trailers, following the King Frost route, eventually leading to the armory. Members of local fire departments followed in the parade, and in front of the armory, two aerial ladders hoisted an American flag high above the ceremony.

The soldiers, despite not knowing many of the residents personally, would appreciate the community's support while they are deployed.

Beane's wife, Danielle, has been put in charge of the Family Support group for the Stryker Brigade.

According to some soldiers, care packages from home are always welcome, and there are things residents can do to make sure the families left behind by the departing soldiers are not for-gotten.

Anyone wishing to "adopt" a soldier for such efforts is asked to email Beane at danielle.beane@us.army.mil.

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