Schenectady County

Guardsmen ready for action

About 160 Army National Guard soldiers from the Capital Region are leaving for two months of trainin

About 160 Army National Guard soldiers from the Capital Region are leaving for two months of training in Oklahoma, after which they will spend 10 months deployed in Iraq.

The primary mission of the soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, 142nd Aviation will be to transport infantry soldiers in UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters. Some of them are scheduled to fly today in 10 of the helicopters to Fort Sill, Okla. Other soldiers were to fly there in a military C-12 airplane or on commercial flights on Monday.

Maj. Jeff Baker of Rotterdam, who was working until last October as a pharmacist for Price Chopper’s HouseCalls service, said he was “anxious to go, do our job and get home. We’ve trained for this for a long time.”

Baker said he plans to go back to his pharmacist job when he returns from Iraq next June.

Jacob Beck, a 24-year-old specialist from Amsterdam, will serve as a Blackhawk crew chief.

“I’m nervous,” he said, “but I’m really happy to be with this group of people. … I’d trust any one of them with my back. That’s a good feeling, going into something like this.”

The helicopters were scheduled to depart Friday. Five of them took off after a little ceremony at 10:15 a.m. from the guard’s Latham Flight Facility on Old Niskayuna Road. Family members, some of them waving, looked on. It was a gray morning, occasionally spitting rain, and some of the soldiers and family waited under the shelter of the hangar.

It turned out to be a false start. The prospect of storms to the west caused the helicopters to go back to Latham about a half-hour later.

While most of the soldiers were until recently part-timers, spending most of their lives in civilian occupations, some have spent full-time careers with the guard. Chris Imbarrato, command sergeant major, has spent 31 years full-time with this unit. He served in Bosnia in 2002 and before that in Nicaragua and Honduras. But his Iraq deployment will be his first combat operation — and, he said, probably his last.

“I’m ready,” the 51-year-old Imbarrato said. “I want to go. … I have complete faith in this battalion, that they’ll complete their mission.”

Imbarrato, whose brother also serves in the unit and will be deployed with him, lives in Greenfield Center. He said his wife Sherry is lead volunteer for the battalion’s family readiness group. His two grown children from a previous marriage live in Ballston Spa.

“Deployments are very hard on families,” Imbarrato said. “The soldiers volunteered for this. The families didn’t.”

The soldiers, he said, appreciate public support, “people coming up and shaking hands and thanking you.” That means a lot, he said.

Lisa McSweeney of Rotterdam, fiancée of Maj. Baker, said: “I’m very sad. I just want this year to be gone and him to come home.”

Baker’s two children from a previous marriage attend Jefferson Elementary School in the Schalmont district, and he visited both of their classes to talk about what he does.

The Blackhawks will be transported from Fort Sill to the Mideast when the soldiers are deployed there.

Another 160 battalion members from Long Island also are going to Oklahoma and then Iraq.

The unit will be stationed in Balad, Iraq. According to a National Guard news release, it “will conduct air transportation operations in support of Multi-National Corps Iraq, as part of the 34th Aviation Brigade, an element of the Minnesota Army National Guard.

“The New York-based unit will deploy with 20 Blackhawk helicopters and pick up 10 more and an additional company from the Missouri Army National Guard.

“The 3-142nd began training for this mission last fall. The unit has spent two three-week training periods at Fort Drum, in New York’s North Country, preparing for the deployment and has also been training at home station armories.”

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