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Stryker brigade home for the holidays

December 22, 2008|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. -- Families of Pennsylvania National Guard members headquartered in Franklin County got an early Christmas gift wrapped in camouflage Monday when their loved ones returned from three months of training.

The 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, including about 88 guardsmen based in Chambersburg, Pa., and Waynesboro, leaves for Iraq early in the new year.

A busload of guardsmen joked and watched movies when they left Fort Dix, N.J., on their way to the Waynesboro armory. After training nonstop in Mississippi and Louisiana, most said they look forward to spending the holidays relaxing with family and friends.

For Capt. John Wenzel, that includes "not thinking about the Army for a week." He was headed home for his mother's spaghetti and homemade meatballs.

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Wenzel, of northern Virginia, went to Afghanistan in 2004 and 2005.

"We're used to this," Susan Wenzel said, talking about her son's deployments and her husband's time as a Navy captain.

Staff Sgt. Andrew Scott's parents, Allen and Ellen, waited anxiously for his arrival on leave. The 1996 graduate of Waynesboro Area Senior High School returned from seven months in Afghanistan in 2002.

While in the South, 1st Lt. Reed Preece of Gettysburg, Pa., said he was able to train with weapons individually and using the Stryker armored combat vehicle.

"It's been great," he said. "I guess they're getting us ready for everything."

He and his twin brother, Ian, both are based at the Waynesboro armory, which serves the 1st Battalion, 108th Field Artillery's Troop C, 2nd Squadron 104th Calvary as well as Battery B.

First Lt. Ian Preece said he felt compelled to join the military after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Ian Preece lives in the brothers' hometown of Annapolis and works as a police officer. He will put his professional skills to use in the Middle East as the reliance on Iraqi forces for policing continues to shift to U.S. troops, he said

Reed Preece, who hopes to take his wife to Red Lobster this week, said he is glad he soon will be able to use his training and preparation.

"I wanted to go to Iraq and fight," he said.

"They've actually had Iraqi-Americans simulate people we'll talk with. I was surprised how real the training was," Wenzel said, adding that training also attempted to re-create the anticipated living conditions.

As the youngest of 11 children, Pfc. Matt Deneau, a medic, expects a large holiday celebration. He's excited to see his nieces and nephews.

"We all get together and exchange gifts," said Deneau, who graduated from Chambersburg Area Senior High School in 2003.

Deneau said family members have been talking about his visit, saying they are "not ready for me to leave again, but ready for me to come back now."

Chambersburg's Charles M. Nitterhouse VFW Post 1599 spearheaded a fundraising effort to pay for the Wolf Bus Lines' motorcoach's fuel used in the National Guard members' return. Donations topped $2,000 and allowed the VFW to also plan a party for Jan. 2 in Waynesboro.

"We've adopted them for the entire time they're overseas," said George Kohler, who worked with the VFW. "Anything we can do to make (life) better for the families here at home and anything we can do to support the troops, that's what we're all about."

Donations for further support can be made at any branch of Orrstown Bank.

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