As the community celebrated the opening of the city's Armed Forces Reserve Center on Sunday, it also said goodbye to more than 200 of its soldiers attached to the 3rd Battalion of the 103rd Armor Battalion. They are being deployed to Kuwait for security operations.
As Lt. Col. T.A. Starkoski, battalion commander, stood next to his son after the dedication ceremony for the new reserve center, he said the moment was "bittersweet."
The "bitter" is having to leave friends and family, but the "sweet" is being able to put their training into action and serve their country.
CRAIG S. McKIBBEN JR./Sun-Gazette
Sgt. John Moody, an infantry soldier with the 3rd Battalion of the 103rd Armor Battalion, kisses his 18-month-old daughter, Allison, during a send-off event for his unit at the Grove Street armory in Williamsport on Sunday afternoon. More than 200 troops are heading to Kuwait for a security operation.
"Being a spouse of a soldier is not easy," Starkoski said. "Their dedication ... is as much, if not more than the soldiers'."
Lt. Chris Mead also said he had "mixed emotions" about the day and his girlfriend, Katie Callahan, agreed.
"It's difficult at times but at the same time, you're proud," she said.
Pfc. Anthony Martin said it's probably "10 times" harder for families because they not only miss the soldier but have to fill the void as they're not around to help with daily tasks.
"It's pretty hard at times," he said.
But Martin also added, "This is what we signed up to do."
"(It's) very hard seeing them go off," said Pamela Johnson, Martin's aunt. "I'm extremely proud of him."
Starkoski said that helping families when soldiers are deployed is one reason why the reserve center is so important. He said it's a place for families to come.
"As a battalion, we're a family. But this facility isn't just for the soldiers," he said.
Some, who were deploying for the first time, couldn't wait.
"It's actually exciting," said 1st Lt. Gregory Martz, "just getting to know all the people."
But even if he was excited, he noted that when he told his mother about being deployed, "mothers act the way mothers always do."
Not only did family and friends show up to bid farewell to the soldiers, but so did community members.
"It's unbelievable," Mead said. "The support here is even more than any of us expect."
Added Martin: "It was overwhelming. A lot of people turned out."
The community supported the soldiers, just as the soldiers supported the community during last year's flooding.
Starkoski explained that the reserve center was used to give aid to those affected by the natural disaster.
"This is a great community," he said. "And that's why these armories are built in the community."
He added that it doesn't matter if they're living a civilian life part-time, soldiers always are looking to help.
"They serve even if they're not in uniform," Starkoski said.
Pvt. Heather Inners said although she isn't being deployed, seeing her fellow soldiers off makes her want to become an active soldier after completing college.
"I love being in my uniform. If I could be in all the time, I would," she said.
As the troops prepare to travel to Camp Shelby, Miss., before heading overseas, city Mayor Gabriel J. Campana told them they were his heroes.
"You're defending this city. You're defending this state. And you're defending this nation," he said.