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157th returns from Iraq

December 23, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - In a celebration filled with emotions, holiday cheer and patriotism, about 70 members of the 157th Military Police Co. returned home Monday after a 10-month mission that involved helping to rebuild Iraq.

Cheers went up from a crowd of relatives and friends outside a hangar at the West Virginia Air National Guard base Monday afternoon as a C-130 cargo plane carrying 157th Military Police members made a pass over the base.

Susan Merritt held up a sign that contained a color photograph of her husband, Mark Merritt.

The sign, decorated with miniature American flags, read "My Hero, Capt. Mark Merritt."

Holding a rolling video camera at the same time, Susan Merritt whooped and yelled as the roaring C-130 approached the hangar.

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"We're just glad to have him home," Merritt said.

As the 157th Military Police members walked toward the hangar, the crowd of relatives and friends surged toward them. Officers guarding the scene told the crowd to stay back.

Military police members ran into the arms of waiting wives, girlfriends and other loved ones.

Tears welled up in eyes, video cameras rolled and cameras clicked.

Jeanie Murray held herself close to Darrell McGuinness's chest as McGuinness talked about his experiences in Iraq.

The two are planning to get married in January.

"I'm just really happy he's home," Murray said.

Local members of the Army National Guard were involved in various duties in Iraq, including running holding facilities for prisoners of war and training Iraqis how to run a prison.

Despite the dangerous climate in the war-torn country, no member of the 157th Military Police was hurt, Master Sgt. Parron Hollis said.

The 157th Military Police are based in a facility next to the West Virginia Air National Guard base at the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport south of Martinsburg. A total of 124 of its members were deployed overseas for the mission, Hollis said.

Some returned home earlier due to medical reasons, Hollis said.

About 96 members returned Monday. About 24 members were from an Army National Guard base in Moundsville, W.Va., and the rest were from the Berkeley County facility, Hollis said.

After military police members met with their relatives, the crowd was greeted by Gen. Allen Tackett, the adjutant general of West Virginia. Tackett, who oversees all Army and Air Guard operations in the state, praised 157th Military Police members for their help in the war on terrorism.

Tackett said he could tell the troops that he understood what they went through. "But I don't. Only you know of the sacrifices you have made," Tackett said.

"What a great day for Martinsburg. The 157th is home and they are home for the holidays," Tackett said from a podium.

Asked to explain what it was like working in Iraq, McGuinness responded, "Every day you had to worry if you were going to get killed or not."

McGuinness, a Martinsburg resident, was part of a group of 157th Military Police members who trained Iraqis to be correctional officers and to run a prison. It was part of helping the Iraqis rebuild their country, McGuinness said.

McGuinness said it was one of the hottest and dirtiest areas in which he has worked. He said the conditions were like having sand thrown in your eyes and then having a blow dryer pointed in your face.

Sgt. Raymond Tachoir said he and other comrades had to drive to a jail every day in a Humvee as part of the work. Despite the fact the jail was patrolled 24 hours a day by U.S. military personnel, explosives were found around the facility periodically, said Tachoir, of Martinsburg.

"Just bizarre circumstances. But you came to expect bizarre experiences in that environment," said Tachoir, who has worked as an emergency medical technician in Berkeley County.

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