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Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 28, 2007

WILLIAMSTON – Family, friends and fellow military personnel gathered here Thursday to celebrate the return of the 730th Quartermaster Battalion.

The 730th is a National Guard unit based out of Ahoskie. They have been deployed to the Middle East since April 2006.

Their welcome-home ceremony was held at the Bob Martin Agricultural Center.

Afterward, Hertford county native Sgt. Jacob Parker told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald how it felt to be home.

&uot;All I can say is that it’s wonderful to be back home,&uot; he said.

Parker, a resident of Millennium, has served in the NCNG for four years. This was his first deployment.

Bertie County resident Sergeant First Class Ronald Tann echoed those sentiments.

&uot;It feels good to be home, there’s nothing like North Carolina,&uot; he stated.

Tann has served in the military for 27 years and will return home to Windsor with his wife and two children.

Representatives from various local and state political offices were in attendance during the ceremony and expressed their thanks to the men and women who help fight for our freedom.

Ahoskie Town Manager Tony Hammond had kind words for the returning soldiers.

&uot;Being prior service myself, I know the kind of commitment you and your family had to make… I just want to welcome you back and congratulate you on a job well done,&uot; he stated.

The troops were stationed at Camp Virginia in Kuwait and made up a support group of soldiers who took care of those headed in and out of Iraq.

&uot;They operated what we call a truck stop… a group would come in headed in or out of Iraq and they would take care of them,&uot; stated Major General William E. Ingram Jr., the Adjutant General for the North Carolina National Guard (NCNG).

&uot;Around 200,000 soldiers in just the last year spent time at Camp Virginia… this group of men and women (the 730th) saved taxpayers $9 million in the way they operated that base,&uot; he said.

Ingram also stated of the war, &uot;We’re engaged in what might be a generation-long conflict… the ones doing the harm are not just going to go away.&uot;

&uot;This isn’t a win or lose situation like it’s been in the past – even if we (America) decide to leave, they (terrorists) are not going to give up; they’re going to follow us home because they are dedicated to our destruction,&uot; he finished.

Sgt. Darry Benson, 46, of Winterville, was the only soldier in the 730th who did not return home.

He died August 27, 2006 of a non-combat related cause.

&uot;He was a friend of mine, he was a friend of everyone in this company… he did his job and he did it well,&uot; stated battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel George F. Robinson III.

Regarding the return of the 730th, Robinson stated, &uot;We’ve waited for this day almost more than a child waiting for Christmas.&uot;

Robinson also said that during the soldiers’ limited free time, over 90 percent completed some form of education or certification.

United States Senators Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr offered words of gratitude through letters that were read at the start of the ceremony by representatives from their respective offices.

&uot;I appreciate how much you do for our country each and every day… you make me proud to be an American. Thank you for your service and your sacrifice,&uot; stated Dole.

Part of Burr’s letter read, &uot;Your sacrifice is greatly appreciated by our nation and we commend you for your willingness to serve.&uot;

According to Major General Ingram, more people from the NCNG have been mobilized for the War on Terror than World War I, World War II, and Korea combined.

Over 11,000 National Guardsmen from this state have been involved in the fight since 9/11.