By CHRIS MENEES
The 913th Engineer Co. returned home to a hero’s welcome Thursday afternoon in Union City after completing its mission in the Middle East.
The community turned out in force with a strong showing of red, white and blue along Reelfoot Avenue as the soldiers made the last leg of their journey from Kuwait back home to their National Guard armory, escorted the final miles by the Patriot Guard motorcycle riders, police and a fire engine.
Excited family and friends weren’t deterred by sweltering 95-degree heat as hundreds of them gathered in the armory parking lot to wait for their own personal heroes to return.
The signs posted by family and friends who welcomed them at the armory spoke volumes: “Our prayers are answered.” “We’re on our way to get our soldier.” “My hero is home.”
It was a patriotic homecoming well earned by a Tennessee Army National Guard unit which company commander Capt. Jacob Partridge said excelled at every task assigned to them in the past year of deployment.
The unit deployed Aug. 18, 2011, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn — during which time the horizontal engineer unit had soldiers serving in both Kuwait and Afghanistan.
The unit rolled back into town by bus Thursday about 3 p.m., roughly an hour earlier than anticipated, and family and friends watched with pride as the unit held one last formation at the armory before dispersing.
During the brief formation, Partridge expressed his appreciation to the families and the community for their support of the troops.
“I cannot express to you enough how much it means to the soldiers to have your support while we’re doing our job. It motivates us in every way,” he said.
Then, Partridge expressed his heartfelt gratitude to the soldiers of the 913th.
“You’ve given up a year of your life to answer the call of your country,” he said. “Every mission you’ve been given, you have succeeded at. You not only met that mission, but you’ve excelled in any standard set. And for that, I thank you.
“I love each and every one of you, and I have the deepest respect for each soldier standing in this formation. I am proud to be able to call myself your commander for the last two years. Job well done. You deserve a break. You enjoy this time with your family and friends.”
First Sgt. Marty Ables told the soldiers “we’ve been a long way together” before he turned them over to their platoon sergeants, giving the leaders a last instruction to “get these platoons to their families.” The soldiers let out a loud cheer as they were dismissed and loved ones began to converge.
The soldiers will enjoy a one-month break before everyone gathers again with their families for a couple of days and then regular monthly Guard drills resume, according to Partridge.
After dismissal, Partridge spoke to The Messenger about the 913th’s missions in Kuwait and Afghanistan over the past several months — deeming the operation a success which will have a huge impact in the future.
“We accomplished everything that was given to us,” he said. “We kind of set a reputation that whenever they were asking us to do something, we were always waiting on somebody else to give us what we needed and to do their part. They were never waiting on us. We were always ready.
“We built a lot of roads, built a lot of pads to store materials, even de-constructed quite a bit of facilities to turn the land back into the desert, into original conditions, to give back to the Kuwaiti government.”
Although the majority of the unit worked in Kuwait from the time the soldiers arrived there in October by way of Fort Bliss, Texas, until they left there about 10 days ago, there was about a third of them who were involved in a project in Afghanistan.
“We also had a big mission in Afghanistan,” Partridge said. “We sent about 50 soldiers over to Afghanistan for about five months and we did a huge project over there. We did as much with that one platoon in Afghanistan as the rest of the company did in Kuwait. And that is going to set the stage for the American drawdown in Afghanistan in the future. The project they were working on is directly going to be one of the logistical hubs to get all of the equipment and supplies out of Afghanistan.
“And they’re not going to see the dividends of that until one or two years down the road, but the successes later on are going to be due to what our guys did over there,” he added.
The 913th originally deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom but also served in support of Operation New Dawn as forces left Iraq.
“When we got in country in October, it was just a couple of months before the drawdown in Iraq was supposed to be completed and all of our missions the first two or three months were in support of pulling forces out of Iraq — because Kuwait was where everything went, everything that was in Iraq, as far as troops and equipment,” Partridge said. “So we did a lot of support to help all the massive convoys to get in and out of there.”
The 913th’s soldiers began the long journey home from the Middle East about 10 days ago, returning to Fort Bliss in El Paso for outprocessing from active duty in two separate increments Aug. 5 and Aug. 8 after a 15-hour flight from Kuwait that included one stopover. About a third of the unit flew into Fort Bliss with the Trenton-based 230th Engineer Battalion, which the 913th falls under.
The 230th returned home Tuesday to a similar hero’s welcome from the community.
About 150 soldiers from the 913th flew early Thursday morning from Fort Bliss to the National Guard’s Volunteer Training Site in Smyrna for some additional outprocessing before boarding buses bound for Union City. They landed at Smyrna an hour earlier than anticipated, about 8 a.m., and left Smyrna about 11:40 a.m., also slightly earlier than expected.
Along the way, Partridge kept in contact with The Messenger via cell phone calls and text messages to report the soldiers’ location as they neared Union City. They were met by the Patriot Guard at Parkers Crossroads for an escort home and the excitement began to build as they passed through McKenzie about 2:10 p.m. and then as Partridge last reported they were between Martin and Union City at 2:50.
From Highway 22, the caravan of buses took the bypass around Union City and rolled up Everett Boulevard to turn onto Reelfoot Avenue. Along the way, they were greeted by a strong showing of patriotic banners and residents waving American flags.
The soldiers pulled into the armory on East Reelfoot Avenue about 3:15 p.m. to the cheers of family and friends, many of them also waving signs and American flags and wearing clothing with patriotic messages. It was an all-out celebration orchestrated by the 913th’s Family Readiness Group, which sold special T-shirts to mark the homecoming, and with assistance from Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4862.
Partridge said the turnout of family, friends and entire communities for Thursday’s homecoming was a tremendous sight and was an emotional return for the troops.
“There was quite a bit, even towns before we ever got here (to Union City). As soon as we got off of I-40, there were people everywhere. We got police escorts everywhere. The Patriot Guard — I can’t say enough about them. It’s just really touching to see all those motorcycles and American flags flying in front of you,” he said.
He said it’s a good feeling to see the support and to know the community is appreciative.
“It means so much. I really can’t even explain what it means to these guys and most of them would tell you they’d rather just get off the plane and go see their family; they try to act that tough guy character, but it really touches each one of them,” Partridge said. “Honestly, there were tears on the bus as we were pulling in.”
Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: See related editorial under the Editorials tab on the blue bar, in the "Just a Thought" section.
Published in The Messenger 8.17.12