Pa. soldiers return home

September 10, 2007|By DON AINES


As they walked off the buses onto a red carpet, the eyes of the men and women of the 324th Military Police Battalion searched the cheering, flag-waving, sign-holding crowd, looking for someone to hug - wives, husbands, children, parents, girlfriends.

Family members gathered outside the Frank M. Parker U.S. Army Reserve Center, edged forward, some pushing strollers or carrying infants, to greet the soldiers on their return from more than a year in Iraq.

"She's almost done," said Sgt. Cole Baker of Fayetteville, Pa., as his 8-month-old daughter, Hailey, was finishing a bottle of formula. Hailey was 2 months old the last time he saw her while on leave in March.


"I think it was very hard on his dad to miss his first day of kindergarten," Carla Franek of Chambersburg said of her husband, Chief Warrant Officer Scott Franek, and their 5-year-old son, Trevor. "He missed a lot of Trevor's milestones."

"I missed him so much," Trevor said.

A short time later, Scott Franek, an 18-year veteran, was reunited with his wife and son, thankful for the successful end of his second deployment.

"Everybody made it back. It's great," he said.

"It's unbelievable the way the community has turned out here, and seeing your loved ones. It's been a long 15 months," Scott Franek said.

"They had it tougher than we do," he said of the families who have waited back home.

The uniforms and the fashions change, but the iconic images of soldiers' homecomings have changed little over the millennia. One thing that has changed is that some of the soldiers being greeted upon their return were women.

Staff Sgt. Jamie Boyers of Chambersburg said it was hard having to leave her daughter, Marissa, with family while she was away.

"I didn't really have control of what was going on back here, so you just put your trust in your family," Boyers said. "I think they did a great job."

"We're best friends," said Marissa, who will go to Faust Junior High School now that she will be back with her mother.

The band from Faust Junior High School greeted the buses carrying the soldiers as they drove through Memorial Square on the way to the reserve center. The Charles Nitterhouse VFW Post 1599 Honor Guard performed a rifle salute and a few hundred people came out of the Franklin County Courthouse and downtown businesses to cheer the soldiers, who were in charge of detainees at Camp Cropper near Baghdad while in Iraq.

At the reserve center, a Grove telescopic crane was used to hoist a huge American flag.

"It was a beautiful homecoming. It's great to be welcomed home," said Pfc. Zachary Caldwell of Hagerstown.

"This was one of the better ones," Carlton Graham said of the welcome Chambersburg gave the 147 soldiers. The Werner Bus Lines driver has driven quite a few units from Fort Dix, N.J., for these homecomings.

"This was well-organized, well put together," he said of the welcome organized primarily by the 324th Family Readiness Group.

One of the group members, Margie Rodriquez, said some members of the unit are still overseas. Some of those returning, she said, have already signed up to return for another tour in January.

Boyers said she will leave that decision up to the Army.

"If duty calls, I will go back," she said.

For the families, it was the end of an often tense year. Several parents said their sons and daughters advised them not to watch the news, but, "it's hard to ignore what's going on," said Dan Bentz of Dillsburg, Pa.

"This is something I thought I'd never have to deal with," Bentz said as he waited for the bus carrying his son, Steven. "This is something he felt he had to do, and I support him wholeheartedly."

Laura Repp of Chambersburg said the readiness group helped get her through the past year as she waited for the return of her son, Spc. Brandon Caratozzola.

"Yeah, you worry and you don't watch the news, but I've had a great support system," she said.

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