Troops appreciate community support
After officials thanked the National Guard for answering the call to serve in Iraq, local guardsmen expressed their appreciation of the community for its support of them - and their families.
"It's really amazing," said Jamie Allen. "Bemidji has been really supportive of us."
From the American flags hanging in front of residents' homes to the local businesses proclaiming their appreciation in billboards and signs, the entire community has the National Guard unit, he said.
The Ride for the Troops and other fundraising events has helped their families and for that the guardsmen are thankful, he said.
"It was hard being away from then," said Allen, whose wife, Andrea, and son, Tanner, were waiting for him to return. But the time away was made a little easier due to the "support from the whole community," he said.
Members of the Minnesota National Guard A Co. 2nd Combined Arms Battalion 136th Infantry have been home for just over a month.
For Kasey Kampfer, Saturday's welcome home ceremony reinforced what he already knew - that people in the community were thinking of the troops and their families while the guardsmen were overseas.
"We're not here," he said, "but they're thinking of you - and not everyone even knows you."
Families and friends on Saturday celebrated the troops' return, but the group expanded to include community members who just wanted to show their appreciation. The guardsmen were away from their families for 22 months and served in Iraq for 16 months.
"It's great being back," said Jason Richardson, who returned home to his 12-year-old daughter, mother, sister and brother. "The community has really reached out to us."
Saturday's celebration was the second homecoming for the National Guard unit. The guard members returned on July 22 as community members lined the streets and waved American flags to welcome them home.
"We appreciate the community support," said Bemidji State University student Brian Ness, whose family is in Winona. Being away from loved ones is hard, he said, but "it's better knowing that you're family is being supported."
During the homecoming celebration the guardsmen heard state and military officials as they praised the troops for their work overseas.
Additionally, they heard abut the local volunteers, businesses and organizations that supported their families throughout the past two years.
"It's good to get out the names of those responsible (for the support)," Ness said. "You don't always know who is responsible."