News: Reservists welcomed by community and leaders
Story by Spc. Anthony Hooker
GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Army Reserve soldiers assigned to Alpha Company, 324th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, were publicly recognized and thanked for providing communication support to coalition troops in Afghanistan. Assembled at the Lockheed Martin Employee Recreation Park July 20, nearly 200 soldiers and supporters of the military celebrated a successful yearlong deployment which concluded in January.
Mobilized in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the 324th ESB aligned members from its companies in Atlanta and Fort Gordon with soldiers from the Greenville unit. Forty-five soldiers received an encased American flag, commemorative coin, hand-held flag and a personal show of gratitude from the 324th ESB’s senior leaders.
Col. Jim Chatfield, the commander of the 359th Theater Tactical Signal Brigade, told the audience that the soldiers being honored continue a long tradition of call-ups in America.
“The ceremony is a key step in the citizen-soldier relationship,” said Chatfield, an Atlanta resident. “Going back to the early militias and the call-up armies, people have put their lives on hold, served their country overseas and reintegrated back into society.”
“Recognizing that contribution is critical,” Chatfield continued. “We learned very painfully in the Vietnam War that if we didn’t give that recognition, the [public] would disassociate themselves from the effort.”
First Lt. Benny Smith, the Alpha Company commander, said the welcome home moment benefits the unit and the Greenville community.
“It’s good for the community because it lets us recognize them for all the support they’ve given to us while deployed,” said Smith, an Apex, N.C., resident. “It’s also a reminder that we have their back.”
Soldiers with the 324th ESB worked at 26 different sites throughout Afghanistan. They provided voice over Internet protocol phones and CISCO routing, serviced two different levels of networks, laid cables and created Ethernet and Category Five cable lines. Smith said deployed soldiers gained considerable experience that will have long-term benefits for any civilian employer.
“For the soldiers who haven’t deployed, they have a wealth of knowledge at their disposal,” Smith remarked.
Spc. Coleman Waldrip traveled from Atlanta to be recognized for a job well done. Waldrip, an information technician who completed his second mission to Afghanistan, brought his wife, son, mother and brother along to celebrate the moment. Currently a student at Gwinnett Tech, Waldrip, 25, said it is nice to be recognized in front of an audience.
“Signal soldiers are used to working behind the scenes so the pat on the back is a nice little ego booster,” Waldrip said. “It’s nice to have that formal ‘thank you’ because the ‘joes’ are the ones who are out there not sleeping when connections are not being made ... one of our teams worked for nearly three days straight to get a system into the network.”
“But it’s not about that. It’s about doing the job right- knowing you are the best at what you do.”
Amber Waldrip, Coleman’s wife, said she enjoyed the event. “The ceremony was beautiful,” Amber said. “It was nice to see the soldiers get recognized.”
Chatfield also thanked family members and employers who supported the unit and individual members. Chatfield also used the moment to remind his audience that having the household restored was not a reason to avoid using Army-sponsored events like the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration program or Military One source, a 24-hour information guide to all issues related to the military and supporting military families.
“Because families sacrifice so much during deployments, we try to give them tools to help with reintegration,” Chatfield said. “Programs like Yellow Ribbon and the employment website, Heroes to Hire, help families enjoy their time together and learn new skills that are necessary because [society] is always growing and adapting.”
Soldiers who did not deploy noticed how their peers returned home with a greater sense of self-confidence. Sgt. Taci Cobb remarked how some of the younger soldiers appear to carry themselves a little differently.
“Any training we do at Greenville is preparation to go into a combat zone,” Cobb said. “We don’t use our equipment during the year outside of training, so seeing them back and recognized for performing well, you can see that they have more pride in their position.”
Cobb said more than anything, she was glad to know her coworkers made it back safely and in good health. “I have served with a lot of these guys for over 10 years,” she said. “We missed them when they were gone and are happy that they are back.”