A total of 123 soldiers with the 35th Combat Aviation Brigade were welcomed home at 10 a.m. Wednesday, May 1 after spending nearly a year deployed in Kuwait in support of “Operation Enduring Freedom.”
A brief, but special ceremony in their honor was held at 10:30 a.m. at the Mathewson Exhibition Center on the Missouri State Fairgrounds. Guest speaker was Gov. Jay Nixon, who thanked the soldiers for their service. Maj. General Steve Danner, adjutant general of the Missouri National Guard, also addressed the soldiers and thanked them for their sacrifices.
Danner reminded the soldiers that the mission is not complete until each guardsman goes through the reintegration, resilience and yellow-ribbon programs. “We don’t do it for ourselves, we do it for our families, who deployed just as much as we did,” he said. “Hooah? .. Hooah!” the soldiers replied in unison.
“Familes, you heard that, this is an important thing with reintegration when you’re coming back from an overseas deployment, that our soldiers and their familes complete the mission, because we need to take care of not only our soldiers, but also those of you (at home). You’ll have it completed in about 90 days,” Danner noted.
“You’re American heroes, thank you for your service, God bless each and every one of you, and God bless this great state in the United States of America,” he concluded. He then introduced the governor of Missouri.
Gov. Nixon had a few specific words and phrases to deliver to the troops:
“Honor. Courage. A sense of duty. A love of country. These are words and phrases that carry great meaning for all Missourians. But as we look at these folks, coming back from serving in harm’s way on behalf of all of the United States of America, they are especially poignant and moving,” Nixon said.
Sedalia Mayor Elaine Horn also attended the ceremony and welcomed the soldiers home and also thanked them for their service, just before they were reunited with their families.
Representatives of Democratic US Senator Claire McCaskill and Republican Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler also spoke to the soldiers on behalf of their bosses. Neither were able to attend the ceremony in person.
Upon their arrival in Sedalia, the Missouri National Guard soldiers, led by Col. Mark L. McLemore, 35th CAB commander, were greeted and thanked by supporters lined up along Thompson Boulevard while three buses (two Arrow tour buses and one smaller bus), accompanied by Sedalia Police and combat vets riding motorcycles, made their way to the fairgrounds from Whiteman AFB.
The aviation brigade, headquartered in Sedalia, deployed over 120 Soldiers as a command and control headquarters for the aviation elements in Kuwait.
The unit began its year-long deployment process May 8, 2012, with pre-mobilization training at Fort Leonard Wood. After its departure ceremony June 9, the Soldiers continued their mobilization training at Fort Hood, Texas, before making the journey to Kuwait.
The brigade, known as Task Force Santa Fe, strengthened partnerships with five countries while deployed.
The task force skillfully executed numerous flight hours supporting vital theater missions and the inter-theater movement of passengers and cargo. More than 300 hours were directly tied to partnership support and operations.
The unit is commanded by Col. Mark W. McLemore and Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Vogel.
The 135th Army Band provided stirring, patriotic music for the occasion. Photos by Randy Kirby, Sedalia News Journal. (Last three photos courtesy Kevin Walker).