A rousing welcome home

A rousing welcome home Five-year-old Sydney Tigert had plenty of hugs for her dad, Phil, a physician's assistant with the National Guard's Company B, 109th Medical Battalion of Vermillion. At right is Phil's wife, Jamie. A large bus carrying the members of the Company B unit pulled into the parking lot of the Vermillion National Guard shortly after noon on Thursday, to cheers and tears from friends and family of the troops. Phil is the son of Pat and Roger Tigert of Vermillion. by David Lias They're finally home.

After being away from loved ones and friends for over a year, and dealing with the dangers of war and the harsh climate of the Middle East, members of the Army National Guard Company B, 109th Medical Battalion based in Vermillion, are on American soil.

The unit arrived in Vermillion late Thursday morning after journeying by bus for approximately five hours from Fort McCoy, WI.

And the community celebrated.

Schools let out early. A parade was held on the city's Main Street, lined with people of all ages who gave the National Guard members a rousing welcome home.

The parade, from the National Guard Armory to Main Street, eventually ended at Slagle Hall on the campus of The University of South Dakota.

The festivities concluded with formal deactivation ceremonies in Slagle Auditorium.

The unit's bus was met by local law enforcement at Exit 26 on Interstate 29, and given a special escort along Cherry Street to the armory.

Company B's women and men were given about an hour of private time at the armory to be reunited with family and friends. The troops and families were served a hot dog lunch by Hy-Vee. The parade honoring the troops was scheduled to begin at approximately 2 p.m.

Hy-Vee once again served hot dogs, this time to the public who arrived at Slagle Hall Thursday afternoon to welcome the unit home.

The formal public ceremony to honor the troops and deactivate the unit began at 3:30 p.m. in Slagle Auditorium. Gov. Mike Rounds, Adjutant General Mike Gorman and other dignitaries were scheduled to attend the hour-long ceremony.

Students from Vermillion's schools were let out of class early and bused to the parade route.

They also played an active part in welcoming the troops home. Middle school students provided music for the National Guard members and their families as they left the armory to participate in the parade.

The Guard members traveled in style, in over 70 pickups provided by local car dealers that were driven by members of the USD football team and coaching staff.

The festivities were coordinated by South Dakota National Guard officials, the city of Vermillion and the Vermillion Chamber of Commerce and Development Company.

Company B was placed on active duty Feb. 24, 2003, to support Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom. The unit trained for six weeks at Fort McCoy before deploying to Kuwait April 5, 2003, and later setting up operations at Baghdad International Airport.

According to South Dakota National Guard officials, the 69-member unit treated 40,000 patients � including 12,000 coalition troops, 1,500 civilian and 26,500 Iraqis. The unit completed 628 ambulance missions involving more than 1,000 patients.

Army Reserve also returns

Eighty-one South Dakota Army Reserve Soldiers of the 323rd Chemical Company were also expected to return to Sioux Falls Tuesday, March 30. The soldiers, based in Sioux Falls and Vermillion, have been in Kuwait and Iraq for the past year, deployed in February 2003 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom/Iraqi Freedom.

The 323rd Chemical Company arrived stateside on March 24 and have been processing at Fort McCoy. There, they performed a variety of functions, which include personnel, finance, medical and equipment requirements, as they transition back to being Army Reserve soldiers.

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A community welcoming and awards ceremony is being planned and will be announced at a later date.

Company B, 109th Medical Battalion includes seven students and staff from The University of South Dakota.

The unit is made up of doctors, nurses, physician assistants, combat medics, radiological technicians and a variety of medical support personnel who provide medical services.

The unit saw action in 1991 during the Gulf War.

The 323rd Chemical Company had up to 121 members, which included Army Reserve soldiers from other Army Reserve Commands from throughout the nation. These soldiers were also released to return from Fort McCoy.

The 323rd Chemical Company is one of 65 units in the 96th Regional Readiness Command (RRC). Headquartered in Salt Lake City, UT, the 96th RRC commands 6,500 Army Reserve soldiers in Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, North and South Dakota.

Units in the command provide the Army with capabilities like construction of roads, airfields and buildings; truck transportation, ammunition storage and supply; vehicle maintenance and repair; hospitals, veterinary and medical care; water purification and distribution; and public affairs.

Company B received orders in early last year. When it reported for federal service in February 2003, it was the eighth South Dakota Army National Guard unit called into federal service.

The SDANG hosted an emotional activation ceremony Saturday, Feb. 22, 2003 at Slagle Auditorium for Company B.

The ceremonies Thursday tugged at the heart strings, too. But citizens were overcome with feelings of joy and patriotism instead of a sense of loss.

Vermillion's soldiers are home.

For complete coverage, check next week's Plain Talk.

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