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Saying goodbye, for now; National Guard unit gathers in armory as Company C gears up for deployment to Kuwait

Three-month-old Timmy Coone Jr. was cuddled comfortably in his father's strong arms Sunday afternoon.

The next time he sees his father, little Timmy probably will be walking and learning to say "da-da." By then, he'll be a little over a year old.

Timmy was one of about 200 relatives and friends who filled the drill hall in the Connecticut Street Armory for a visit with men and women of the National Guard who are leaving for a yearlong tour of duty in Kuwait.

They said a ceremonial "so long," shared embraces with loved ones and heard a prayer for the safe return of Guard members who are leaving Tuesday on the first leg of their tour of active duty.

Timmy is the son of Spc. Timothy J. Coone, 22, of Jamestown. He was there with his mother, Kody M. Coone, who said her husband's deployment was "scary -- but he's doing his part for our country."

Spc. Coone is a medic in the New York Army National Guard's Headquarters Company C of the 427th Brigade Support Battalion.

About 70 soldiers from Company C were honored at Sunday's deployment ceremony. They are among about 1,800 soldiers from across New York State who were mobilized over the weekend as part of a combat brigade mission "in support of security operations in Kuwait and other duties the Army requires," according to the National Guard's official announcement.

About 75 soldiers in Company A of a special-troops battalion were mobilized in a similar ceremony Sunday in Lockport High School.

Spc. Coone has been working full time for the Guard unit in Buffalo for some time, but he was not on active duty until now, and he was able to be home every night. Recognizing her husband's commitment to the National Guard, Kody Coone said she has thought about what it would be like for them to be separated for a year or longer.

She said she and the couple's son will move in with her parents in Fredonia "for the duration." She said the help and companionship of her mother and father would help to ease the burden of separation.

Little Timmy is not the only child who is being left behind as one of his parents goes off to serve their country.

Two-year-old Joey O'Connor of South Buffalo is another. He was there with six other relatives and two neighborhood friends to honor his father, Sgt. Joseph R. O'Connor, a unit administrator and combat medic who was a Teamster for Tops Markets' warehouse before he began working full time with the National Guard.

O'Connor, 30, has been a member of the Guard for five years, but this is his first tour of duty on foreign soil. "I'm looking forward to it," he said. "I want to do my part. It's a good thing to fight for my community and the Army."

O'Connor's mother, Mary O'Connor, is secretary of the company's Family Readiness Group.

The company commander, Capt. Charles M. Schiralli, is leaving behind two children, a 4-year-old and a 20-month-old. Schiralli returned in 2009 from a one-year tour of duty in Afghanistan; his son was only 2 weeks old when he left on that assignment.

The captain, a 35-year-old resident of the Syracuse suburb of Chittenango, took command of Company C less than a week ago -- on Wednesday. He was a social studies teacher in the Vernon-Verona-Sherrill School District before he became a logistics staff officer about 18 months ago at Battalion Headquarters in Syracuse.

Schiralli said Company C's mission will be to set up a small medical treatment facility, smaller than a field hospital but somewhat similar to the emergency treatment room of a civilian hospital.

His company includes medics, nurses, a dentist, two physicians, physicians' assistants and others. They give front-line treatment to injured or sick soldiers, rarely keeping them for more than 72 hours before sending them on to a larger field hospital or returning them to duty.

The 70-member contingent here includes about 20 citizen soldiers from Western New York and 50 "from over 50 miles away," Schiralli said.

He said the unit will leave for Syracuse, where it will join with other components for a chartered flight to Camp Shelby, Miss. After refining their tasks during post-mobilization training there, they are expected to leave for Kuwait in early April.

They expect to be on federal active duty for up to 12 months, but the Army continues to review and reduce forces needed overseas, according to a government announcement. Some soldiers may be released sooner. Others may be deployed on different missions.

Throughout it all, their families will have the support of the Family Readiness Group led by Anastasia Chavez, a volunteer from Orchard Park.

"We make sure the families are doing OK," Chavez said. "We help to support the National Guard lifestyle. We help with financial problems, pen-pal services, housing, jobs, health care, child care, stresses in school, problems at home -- anything they want to talk about."

Chavez is uniquely experienced for her family support role.

Her mother, Jeanette Dowery Smith of the Town of Tonawanda, retired recently as a staff sergeant dental technician with 25 years' military service. Her stepfather, Sgt. Max Smith, was deployed Sunday as a pharmacy specialist. He served for eight months as a medic in Iraq in 2005. Spc. Nicole Amerman, a single parent and Chavez' best friend, also was deployed Sunday, leaving her 2-year-old daughter in the care of relatives.

The Guard members from New York will be joined at Camp Shelby by 800 members from South Carolina and 800 others from Wisconsin, Alabama, Illinois, Florida, California, Kansas and Michigan as part of a brigade combat team to be sent to Kuwait.

The National Guard said other units may yet be called up for similar duty.

email: rbaldwin@buffnews.com