I hope you had a great weekend! It is unusual for me to need two or three days to put a post together, but I think this one was worth the effort.
I have written before about aspects of living in a small town, e.g. Of Waves and Pens, but last week I was privileged to observe another facet in the town where I have worked for over 20 years.
Last year, on June 12, 2010, the Alabama Army National Guard 214th Military Police Company was deployed to Iraq for the third time, this time to help train Iraqi police officers. (The 214th’s prior deployments were in 1991, as part of Operation Desert Storm, when it was awarded the Meritorious Unit Award, and in 2003. )
364 days later, on Friday, June 10, 2011, the small town where I work turned out to welcome the first wave of returnees back home. Originally, 170 members were deployed; over 100 of those got to come home Friday; another 57 will follow in about three weeks. While the unit draws on individuals from my working town, the neighboring communities and one small city, the deployment of 170 people always has a serious impact on small towns and their surrounding communities. There is an economic price since there are not as many people to buy things, but there is an even larger human price – each one of those guard members have family – husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, children, aunts and uncles and cousins – who need to “hold the fort” while the members are gone. I am sure there are sleepless nights for both the guard member and the family, wondering how things are going “over there” and hoping that nobody gets hurt. A small town feels that pain, necessarily, more so than a larger community. It is hard not to know someone affected by the Guard’s deployment in one manner or another; even if you don’t have a deployed member in your family, you know someone who does.
These men and women, who choose to serve, leave their families when asked by the Army to fly halfway across the world in order to protect all of us. They deserve our respect, and gratitude, and I was very proud of my town for showing out in force to demonstrate both.
Well before Friday, yellow ribbons started appearing all over town, welcoming home the 214th. There was a yellow ribbon on the local hospital’s main sign:
- The Local Hospital
at the antique and framing store downtown:
One of the prettiest buildings used by local government had its yellow ribbons also.
as well as the town roundabout. (The town roundabout is the latest answer to a traffic issue my town has faced for over 100 years, the circle around the courthouse square. When a great fire came along and destroyed much of the city in the 1900’s, a newspaper article was written expressing the hope that something could be done to better enable traffic flow around what was, at the time, the County Courthouse. The roundabout has helped some, although when I am in a particularly absent-minded mood, I sometimes have the feeling that I may have circled the road three or four times before I hit the right exit!)
Because of its location, the town roundabout is, in a way, the heart of the city. It was properly decorated with ribbons was well.
Our law office had yellow ribbons on both the front and the back doors.
As did much of the rest of downtown:
On the four-lane highway through the outskirts of town, each light post was decorated with a yellow ribbon also, while every other light post had two flags on each side of it. A huge cliff in our area, called Patriot’s Point for the huge flag that permanently resides there, also boasted a “Welcome Home 214th” sign about halfway up the cliff – someone had to do some climbing to get there!
On the four lane and at Patriot Point
Here’s a closer look at the sign:
Patriot Point Sign
The City Sportplex decorated both of their entrances with yellow ribbons:
Entrance to the City Sportplex
Looking up at the Flag at the Sportplex
as did many other business in the area, including two funeral homes, the local community college, City Hall, and a multitude of stores. By the time all the ribbons were up, you could definitely tell that something was about to happen!
And then that something did happen, on Friday about 12:30 p.m. Word came that the two air-conditioned buses carrying the returning members were approaching, and the final preparations were made. The local police stopped traffic for the parade route.
People gathered at spots where they thought they would be able to see the buses and the people in the buses would see them; I chose a side road for my observation point because the next turn the buses would take from that side road was the road that would lead them to the armory. From my spot, I could see people gathering:
Cheerleaders from the local schools:
Local Cheerleaders wait.
The Crowd Gathers
And other people, as well.
This woman was waiting for her nephew to come back home,
Waiting for her nephew
as were these people beside her:
Finally, after about 20 minutes more of waiting, we started hearing sirens and cheering coming from the four lane, which let us know that they were about to arrive! The first escort car that pulled around in front of the buses was a local radio station’s car, closely followed by a police cruiser, who was then followed by the two buses.
The Procession begins
More people wait
Then the police car leading the buses came up the road, with its lights flashing and sirens on.
Second Vehicle in the procession
Followed by the first bus:
Then, as the buses pulled into sight, the people started waving:
Waving hello as the buses get into sight.
Finally, the buses themselves came into view, rounded the corner and took the final turn that would lead them back to the armory, where their families were waiting for them.
The final road to the armory
I did not choose to go forward toward the armory to see the final reunion between loved ones; that moment belongs to the families, and only to them, but it made me feel happy to know how many families were about to be made happy and whole again.
I am very proud of my working town for putting together a celebration that would help these military members know how welcome they are, and how much we honor their service, but I am even prouder of the men and women coming home; their service is essential to our country’s security and I admire them for the sacrifice that they make.
Have a great day everyone!