351st returns

Unit was in Washington for a year

Unit was in Washington for a year

April 15, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

For the past year, Specialist Paul Henderson, with the West Virginia Army National Guard, has been far away from his son, his home and the war in Iraq.

After being stationed for a year at Fort Lewis, Wash., Henderson and other members of the Martinsburg-based 351st Ordnance Co. returned home Monday evening.

"I was begging to go overseas," Henderson said.

A single parent, Henderson slung an arm around the shoulders of his 8-year-old son, Jaden, whom he has seen for just two days in the past year.


"Thank God for cell phones," Henderson said.

Capt. Greg Barr, rear detachment commander for the 351st, said he anticipates some soldiers will not stay with the unit after a year-long domestic mission spent doing things like mowing grass.

"That's just not what reservists do," Barr said.

Members of the 351st replaced a Washington unit that had been deployed overseas.

At the unit headquarters on Maryland Avenue in Martinsburg, anxious friends and family members cheered and clapped when a Greyhound bus pulled up, carrying their loved ones.

As the men and women got off, family members ran up to hug them. Some snapped photos. Others let fly red, white and blue balloons.

Sgt. Billie Jo Dick stood with her boyfriend and family members. She grinned as one of her nieces sat in a camouflaged piece of military equipment, posing for pictures.

"It seems like I'm here on vacation," Dick said. "It was long and frustrating, but I'm going to miss it."

Dick said she was debating whether to stay in the Guard, to the chagrin of her mother, who was under the impression her daughter was going to leave the military.

As her self-described "annoying little brother" filmed with a video camera, Dick said fellow Guard members became more than friends.

"It's like leaving my family all over again," she said.

Most of the 351st members who returned flew into Washington, D.C., and took a bus to Martinsburg. The bus idled for a few minutes after 30 or so people got off, and then continued on toward Romney, W.Va., where 15 or so additional unit members were heading.

Instead of flying, Barr drove back from Washington, spending two days on the road.

For three months at Fort Lewis, members of the 351st provided ammunition support for ROTC students at a summer camp held every year at the Washington base.

Barr said the most interesting part of his deployment was running a four-day field training exercise with 45 soldiers under his command. The soldiers had to take all the food they would need, set up a latrine and fight in fake battles, shooting blanks at opposing forces.

"That'll help me down the road when I have my own company," Barr said.

Two other platoons with the 351st, based in Morgantown, W.Va., and Uniontown, Pa., are overseas in Uzbekistan, a former Soviet state that partially borders Afghanistan.

For the next few months, Barr said recruitment efforts will be under way to replace those who are expected to leave the Guard. Equipment will be gathered, cleaned and redistributed.

Another year is left on the group's deployment order, and the possibility remains that members could be shipped overseas.

"Who knows. It depends on what's happening with Iraq and Syria," Barr said.

Barr said he thought his platoon was heading to Kuwait in November, but those plans fell through.

Walking around the headquarters, Barr pointed out pictures of Guard members, which had been printed onto paper and taped to doors and windows. Some showed the men and women in training exercises. Others showed Guard members eating out at a restaurant, playing tug of war and engaged in street hockey matches - which were popular at the base.

Playing games is not why many, including himself, join the military, Barr said. He said he joined expecting to go to Iraq.

"That's why they do it," Barr said.

Engaged to be married, Guard member Tim Rowe and his fiance Danielle Myers hugged and kissed after he hopped off the Greyhound.

"It was a little nerve-racking," Myers said.

Like other couples, they said they talked every night on cell phones. Rowe joked that he was going to send the bill to the Army.

For the rest of the week, Rowe said he and others in his platoon must return to the Guard's building to unload equipment.

Nearby, Joe Palmer smiled as he watched his 1-year-old twin daughters walk around. After one of the girls, Ashley, took off at nearly a run, Palmer hoisted her into the air and planted a big kiss on her.

"It's a good feeling to be home," he said. Palmer learned he was being deployed the day after he and his wife, Michelle, brought their daughters home from the hospital.

Since then he has missed some early milestones in their lives, including seeing their first teeth and hearing their first words.

Palmer said he doubts he will stay in the Guard, of which he has been a member for nearly 11 years.

"I'm not going to leave them again," he said.

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