SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Amid tears of happiness, colorful banners and patriotic tunes from the Missouri Guard’s 135th Army Band, approximately 125 citizen-soldiers from the 935th Aviation Support Battalion were welcomed home by friends and family at a ceremony in Springfield, May 2.
The Missouri Army National Guard battalion, which draws soldiers primarily from southwest Missouri, has been in Kuwait for much of the past year serving in support of Overseas Contingency Operations, focusing on aviation maintenance, vehicle maintenance, medical operations, transportation, ammunition distribution and communication operations.
While deployed, the aviation battalion produced 60,000 man-hours of aviation and ground maintenance, completed 3,200 work orders, fueled 1,624 military helicopters and drove 84,000 miles safely, said Lt. Col. Roger Bodenschatz, the battalion commander. In addition, the citizen-soldiers tracked aviation parts worth more than $2 million and moved more than 2,600 tons of equipment.
“Command Sgt. Maj. [Javier] Acosta and I are honored to be associated with the men and women of the
935th ASB,” said Bodenschatz, of Jefferson City. “The 935th has some very hard working soldiers that Missouri can be very proud of.”
Before being reunited with several hundred supporters in the audience at Remington’s Entertainment Complex, the battalion hopped a quick flight from its demobilization site at Fort Hood, Texas, then, was met at Springfield’s old air terminal by two fire trucks spraying fountains of water over the plane as it taxied the terminal tarmac. A law enforcement and veteran escort brought the group to waiting community members braving a chilly spring day in the Ozarks for their heroes’ return.
Still, loved one waited a little longer for reunification as a cadre of military personnel and dignitaries greeted the returning group as part of a formal welcome home.
“Welcome home and thank you for your service to our nation. Your devotion to duty and the successful completion of your mission is a strong indicator of the character that the men and women from Missouri exhibit in the face of difficult assignments,” said Sen. Roy Blunt through a representative.
“Your patriotism and devotion to duty are truly inspiring,” read Capt. David Bartelsmeyer from a letter from Sen. Claire McCaskill. “I know this has been a time of sacrifice for all of you, as your mission has taken you away from friends and loved ones. My thoughts and prayers, as well as those of a grateful nation, have been with you and your families during this time apart. Now we rejoice in your safe return.”
“Honor, courage, a sense of duty, a love of country: these are words and phrases that carry great meaning for each of you, and that’s been clearly demonstrated by your dedicated service to Missouri and our nation,” said Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, who visited the group in southwest Asia last year.
“Your training prepared you well for this mission and you completed it with distinction and honor,” added Nixon. “On behalf of the people of Missouri, I congratulate you for a safe and successful mission. You protected innocent lives and made America and the world safer. Missouri is proud of you.”
At the end of the brief ceremony, Maj. Gen. Steve Danner, adjutant general of the Missouri National Guard, gave the order for commander Bodenschatz to dismiss his unit. Following, the aviation group fanned out into a sea of hugs and kisses, some greeting loved ones for the first time, Staff Sgt. Mitchell Jenson, Spc. Chris Harper and Spc. Kellen Busiek among them.
“This is outstanding,” said Harper of meeting his newborn daughter.
“It’s kind of a shock,” said Jensen of the son he just met.
Busiek gazed at his newborn baby as he gave her a bottle for the first time.
Quickly, the venue emptied and Missouri Guard citizen-soldiers returned to the lives they left stateside one year before.
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Photos can be found via Flickr at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/missouriguard/sets/72157633405330202/with/8702235387/