Monday, July 28, 2003

Engineer battalion returns home to a warm welcome


Soldiers: Ft. Thomas celebrates homecoming

By Reid Forgrave
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FT. THOMAS - "It's a great day to be a soldier," Army Major Gen. Michael R. Mayo on Sunday told thousands of flag-waving families and friends of the Army Reserve 478th Engineer Battalion, just returned from Iraq.

"HOO-ah!" the fatigue-clad soldiers shouted back.

The returning soldiers stood in front of Mayo in the high-noon July heat and accepted the gratitude of the crowd gathered at this Northern Kentucky city's Tower Park to welcome them home.

Nearly 200 soldiers from the Ft. Thomas-based battalion lined up in three columns of rigid formation on the park's football field after returning Friday from a week of post-war work at Ft. Campbell, Ky. The engineer battalion had spent nearly six months in Kuwait and Iraq in support positions for various Army posts, helping improve mobility of ground troops and assisting in humanitarian missions. The battalion, which draws from seven states including Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio, started at Umm Qasr and traveled northwest to Baghdad, a trek of more than 250 miles. They left Iraq on July 15.

"We've been a lot of places, we've seen a lot of things," said Lt. Col. Mark S. Williams, battalion commander. "We all came back safely, we're full of pride, and we're anxious to be home."

The three of the battalion's four companies - Alpha, Bravo and the battalion headquarters company - came to the Ft. Thomas homecoming. Charlie Company was welcomed home at a ceremony in Ashland.

A sweaty crowd guzzled bottled water during the hour-long welcoming ceremony. Soldiers stayed in formation for the entirety, and although the Midwest humidity took its toll, all agreed it was nothing compared to the desert heat of the Middle East.

"I don't miss the heat, and I don't miss the sand," said Sgt. First Class Stanley Baker of Edgewood, standing with his wife, Lisa, and family members.

After the 100th Division United States Army Reserve band rang off several patriotic tunes, the soldiers scattered to their respective families.

"Coming back here, it's a shock to the system, all these things we take for granted in America," said Sgt. Anthony Nguyen of Western Hills. "Seeing the Iraqi people living in poverty and having no chance of helping themselves - it's humbling."

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E-mail rforgrave@enquirer.com




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