Post 102 welcomes home local Guardsmen

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 1, 2005

AHOSKIE – A heartfelt welcome.

That’s what National Guardsmen serving overseas in the Middle East came home to Sunday night.

Sponsored by American Legion Post 102 and Auxiliary for the families of the North Carolina Army National Guard 30th Brigade HSB deployed to Iraq in 2004, the event, though low-key, attracted dignitaries including Ahoskie Mayor Linda Blackburn, Hertford County Board of Commissioners Chairman Dupont Davis and state Senator Robert Holloman (D-Hertford) who came out to show their support.

Before partaking in the fellowship meal catered in their honor, guardsman bowed their heads and listened as veteran Jimmy Jarrell, pastor of Harrellsville Baptist Church, lifted up prayers of thanksgiving and praise for their safe return.

&uot;We thank God for you and appreciate the job you did,&uot; he said, addressing the soldiers.

&uot;It wasn’t the same years ago when we came back from Vietnam. We didn’t have the kind of support you have today, nor did we have the kind of technology and communication, but the sacrifice you made in defending freedom is just the same and we’re glad you made it home,&uot; he said.

According to retired Sergeant Major Johnnie Ray Farmer, 41 National Guardsman from the Ahoskie, Roanoke-Chowan area were deployed to serve as fillers for the brigade.

&uot;The price of freedom is not free,&uot; said Holloman during the event. &uot;I’m proud to be free, to vote and to be able to express my opinion and I know the only reason I have those freedoms is because of men and women like you.&uot;

Holloman thanked the soldiers for their service and pledged to continue fighting for increased benefits for military personnel.

&uot;The same day I received the invitation to be here for this event, I received a letter from the Secretary of Defense telling of his intent to maintain employment security and opportunities for those who serve in the military while ensuring they receive leaves of absence consistent with the law during the times of their service and I just want to say that I stand by that commitment,&uot; he said.

Holloman continued, &uot;We will support you and we will ask your employers to do the same. Words cannot express the gratitude we have for what you do in leaving your families behind so that our families can be free. We recognize that the sacrifice is something not only you as individuals make, but your family members as well and my deepest thanks goes out to all of you.&uot;

In a newspaper clipping of &uot;Dear Abby,&uot; Evelyn Rawls of Auxiliary Unit 102 read a letter from a soldier serving overseas, stating that the unsung heroes were the ones that filled the shoes of the soldiers when they were gone.

Speaking with admiration for his wife and the courage with which she faced the many challenges of being a mother of four and a military spouse, the soldier’s words painted a picture of the struggles of family members left behind to manage the households.

&uot;That was the reason we started the Ahoskie Family Support Group,&uot; Rawls said, whose goal was to network families together to help them through the difficult times. &uot;It serves as a means of encouragement,&uot; she said.

&uot;There are no words to express how your letters made us feel,&uot; said returning Master Sergeant Thomas Williams.

&uot;Without the support of our families, the community and the support group, I don’t think I would have made it,&uot; said Sergeant Larry Meeks. &uot;They were what kept us alive. If we would have had that level of support in Vietnam, I don’t think so many would have been killed. I’m proud of my wife and I know the rest of the soldiers feel the same. We couldn’t have done it without them.&uot;

Staff Sergeant Jessie Dickens, who served as a medic in Iraq, offered insight into America’s efforts overseas saying, &uot;The role we played was a commendable role and though it was tough and the soldiers were subjected to trying and challenging situations, we should be proud of them.&uot;

Dickens also addressed the slant the media had on the efforts in Iraq.

&uot;A lot of the news has been negative, but there are a lot of positive things happening there. We don’t know what the outcome will be just yet, but the children are the Iraq of tomorrow and we can rest in the hope that someday they will remember some of the actions our soldiers did, whether distributing candy or giving hugs of comfort in a time of need. We are making a difference and you can feel confident that your support was well taken.&uot;

Major Calvin Moore, who had to leave early from the event to tend to his family, shared a few thoughts before he left.

&uot;We are making progress over there,&uot; he said. &uot;Overall, the people are very receptive. They have a lot of pride and are very hospitable people.&uot;

Noting the cultural differences between American troops and the Iraqi people, Moore said the pace was sometimes slow going, but that progress was being made.

&uot;The Iraqi people have a lot of pride in their country and they want to be a part of rebuilding it,&uot; he said. &uot;It takes longer than employing the American troops already trained in those areas, but it shows that they are willing to cooperate in the effort.&uot;

Moore, who has been with the Guard 21 years, said people back home should be proud of the jobs the soldiers are doing.

&uot;We are building new schools, drilling wells and working on other vital infrastructure and though no one wants to leave their families, regardless of their political views, we know we have a job to do,&uot; he said. &uot;We did our job in a fashion that, I believe, five to 10 years from now children will see the good we’ve done and remember us with favorable regard. They are happy to see Saddam gone and though a lot of people here would have given up, we know by the smiles on the children’s faces is proof that we’re doing a good thing. Hopefully, by our experiences we can bring something back to help those in our own country and make the communities and the world a better place.&uot;

Finding some common ground with the military experience, Mayor Blackburn commended the soldiers. &uot;As a child of a retired Army veteran, I know it’s a team effort. I watched my dad leave on several occasions and saw how my mother struggled when we didn’t give her the help she needed. I can’t imagine the sacrifice you and your families have had to make, but we thank you for it and it’s a privilege and a joy to welcome you back to the community and to your families.&uot;

During the course of the evening, a PowerPoint presentation documenting some of the soldier’s activities overseas served as the backdrop for an emotional rendition of, &uot;I’m Proud to be an American,&uot; sung twice by Mike Lassiter, at the request of the guests who joined hands and harmony across the room.

In his closing prayer, Rev. Jarrell submitted, &uot;Thank you for allowing us to live in a free country. Even with all our faults and flaws, the United States is still the greatest country in the world.&uot;