Heroes’ homecoming

Published 6:14 pm Sunday, September 23, 2012

Family and friends patiently wait in the gymnasium of Dowagiac Union High School Saturday, holding signs of thanks, support and welcome for Dowagiac’s National Guard 1-126th Calvary Regiment, who returned after a nine-month deployment. Leader photo/ALY GIBSON

After a long and tumultuous nine-month deployment, more than 90 men and women of the Dowagiac National Guard 1-126th Calvary Regiment returned home to Michigan Saturday afternoon.

Hundreds of family and friends gathered in the Dowagiac Union High School gymnasium despite chilled temperatures and rain to welcome home their loved ones from Afghanistan. Family members were invited to the unit’s armory, across the street from DUHS, for refreshments before the troop would arrive by bus. In anticipation for their entrance to the gym, many families held signs of welcome, thanks and support for C Troop while volunteers placed American flags along the school’s entryway. The buzzing gym erupted into cheers and applause as soon as the troop marched in.

Chaplain William Hensen, who offered the ceremony’s invocation and benediction, thanked not only C Troop for their service, but the families and friends who supported them.

“Showing that you care is showing up,” Hensen said to the hundreds of supporters sitting in the bleachers. “And you showed up.”

The ceremony also featured VIP speakers, including Capt. Mark Grant, commander of C Troop.

“It seems like just yesterday that we left,” Grant said. “And yet it seems like forever.”

Grant spoke briefly about how “lucky” the troop was to all return home safely, despite dangerous situations, including the May 20 IED (improvised explosive device) attack that injured 10 soldiers.

“That attack should have caused five men to come home in coffins,” Grant said. “God was really watching out for us.”

Hensen made a plea to civilians in the stands Saturday, asking them to keep the men and women of C Troop in their thoughts as they move forward to find jobs and re-enter society.

“Support those in Charlie Troop … keep them in mind for jobs or employment,” Hensen said. “Now you’re home, continue to drive on and press on.”

After the dismissal by Sgt. Michael Henry, the gym’s floor flooded with family and friends from the bleachers, some rushing into hugs and tears.

“It’s amazing. I can’t even put it into words right now,” Sgt. Ken Powell, of St. Ignace, said of being home.

Powell’s wife, Melissa, and their two children, were equally happy to have him back.

“It’s been a long year,” Melissa said. “We had to suck it up, but it was worth it in the end.”

Spc. Josh Jerz, a Dowagiac graduate, said the realization of  being home felt “surreal.”

“I don’t even know what to do right now,” Jerz said. “You see the same people for nine months … I’m just happy to spend time with my family.”

Jerz father, David, said they couldn’t wait to head out to dinner.

Spc. Ryan Seavolt, of Sunfield, Mich., had the same thoughts.

“I can’t wait to get some pizza,” Seavolt said.