Plans have been finalized for members of Yankton's Charlie Battery to step on home turf once again.

Soldiers from Charlie Battery, 1st Battalion, 147th Field Artillery, will arrive back in South Dakota at 12:35 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 30, at the Sioux Falls airport and then be transported by bus to meet with their families in Yankton after spending approximately one year training and evaluating the Iraqi Police in Baghdad in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"I look forward to joining the soldiers and family members of Charlie Battery during their welcome celebration on Saturday," said Gov. Mike Rounds. "These soldiers have completed an extremely difficult mission in a hostile environment, and we will give them the welcome home they truly deserve."

Community effort

"We are all excited to see these troops back in South Dakota," said Maj. Gen. Michael Gorman, adjutant general. "Their service is what makes this nation great and I hope everyone turns out to welcome these veterans home."

"This has been a complete community effort," said Gary Wood, editor and publisher for the Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan, and community event coordinator. "I have been amazed by the response from the community – everyone has stepped up to support the event."

Wood said that for those unable to attend the event, a live broadcast will be available on WNAX 570 AM, KYNT 1450 AM, and MIX 106 FM.

Back on U.S. soil

Charlie Battery arrived back in the United States Saturday afternoon, Sept. 23, at McGuire Air Force Base, NJ, after spending approximately one year training and evaluating the Iraqi Police in Baghdad in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"Knigge!!" yelled a surprised Charlie Battery soldier as he recognized his fellow unit member that had been wounded last May and was evacuated back to the U.S.

Sgt. Brian Knigge was soon over taken by his fellow soldiers with hugs and hand shakes as the entire room erupted in applause for the wounded warrior.

According to a press release from the National Guard received by the Plain Talk Monday, Knigge, as well as approximately 20 other members from the South Dakota National Guard, arrived a day prior to Charlie Battery's arrival in New Jersey to welcome the unit home and ensure the demobilization process runs smoothly.

"Does anyone need to call home?" called Guard support team members as they passed out business and personal cell phones to soldiers to ensure anxiously awaiting families back home were informed of their safe arrival. The soldiers of Charlie Battery are back where they started nearly 16 months ago when it mobilized at Fort Dix but now for the purpose to complete the "demob" process and prepare for a homecoming in South Dakota scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 30.

While going through the "demob" process, the soldiers will finalize deployment issues related to their personnel records, finance, medical, health care coverage, equipment, and their benefits and services entitled to them as this nation's newest veterans.

Charlie Battery is a field artillery unit of the South Dakota Army National Guard – Battery C, 1st Battalion, 147th Field Artillery. Its headquarters is located in Yankton. About half of its members are made of members from Battery A in Mitchell and Battery B in Salem and Sioux Falls.

During its deployment, Charlie Battery lost four soldiers, with another two soldiers still recovering from injuries.

As Charlie Battery landed on American soil, they acknowledged their fallen comrades. They include Staff Sgt. Greg Wagner, who died May 8, and Sgt. 1st Class Richard Schild, Staff Sgt. Daniel Cuka and Sgt. Allen Kokesh Jr. They died following a Dec. 4, 2005, incident with an improvised explosive device in southeast Baghdad.

Schild and Cuka died immediately, while Kokesh died as a result of those wounds Feb. 7.

Sgt. Corey Briest was wounded in the same incident and is recovering at a California hospital.

The troops were greeted Saturday by U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth (D-SD).

"The men and women of Charlie Battery are American heroes who have served their country with distinction and honor. As we welcome them home, our hearts are filled with gratitude and joy, but also carry a heavy burden as we remember those members of Charlie who lost their lives during this war," Rep. Herseth said. "Our thoughts and prayers are also with those soldiers of the 147th who suffered serious injuries while serving our country."

The day before Charlie Battery's scheduled arrival in New Jersey, Herseth, like so many other South Dakotans, waited in anticipation.

"I'm looking forward to seeing these brave soldiers in person," she said. "I had the chance to see some of them in Iraq, and it will be good to share handshakes, hugs and smiles again tomorrow (Saturday, Sept. 23) at McGuire Air Force Base."

Vermillion's plans

Yankton will be the center of activity for the upcoming Sept. 30 homecoming, but Vermillion is also planning events to formally welcome Charlie Battery members back to their hometowns, including Vermillion.

The Vermillion Area Chamber of Commerce and Development Company is encouraging community members to thank members of the Guard unit by:

  • Displaying flags, yellow ribbons, and "Welcome Home/Thank You" signs. The public is also invited to either come to the Vermillion Chamber of Commerce & Development Company parking lot, 906 E. Cherry Street, or to stand anywhere on Cherry Street between 1:45 and 2 p.m. Saturday to wave and cheer as the soldiers pass through Vermillion on their way to Yankton.
  • Attending a parade and deactivation ceremony in Yankton. Contact Tonya Schild at 665-7811 for details.
  • Attending an open house reception for Vermillion troops and their families at Valiant Vineyards Winery on Sunday, Oct. 15 from 2 to 4 p.m., with a brief program beginning at 2:30 p.m.
  • Donating items for gift baskets. Contact the Vermillion Chamber of Commerce & Development Company at 624-5571 by Oct. 6 for details.
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