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Stryker Brigade members celebrate being home for holidays

December 13, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa.-- It was a gift that kept on giving.

Area residents raised $12,000 last year to help VFW Post 1599 support Pennsylvania National Guard Troop C, 2-104th Cavalry of the 56th Stryker Brigade and on Sunday, they continued giving to the soldiers and their families.

About 100 soldiers and their families filled the VFW Post in Chambersburg to celebrate their first Christmas home after nine months in Iraq.

"Last year, the holiday was a bit tense. This year, their minds are in a different place," said 1st Sgt. Timothy Berklite. "It's a great, relaxed atmosphere today."

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There was something to be said for the VFW's generosity toward the unit, said Commander Capt. John Wenzel.

Most of the men said their "thank you's" with a "Hoooahh!" and plenty of applause.

Cpl. Brian Miller, one of the three soldiers in Troop C wounded by an EFP, or explosively formed projectile, chose a different spin.

"It's awesome what the VFW has done for us," he said. "They've been there and done that, served their time when it was 10 times harder. Now they are supporting us. It's an awesome organization."

The unit and the VFW honored the three soldiers wounded in Iraq, all of whom received Purple Hearts for being injured by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy.

Miller, Spc. Mitch Baldwin and Lt. Reed Preece were wounded on Easter Sunday when their vehicle was struck by the EFP, Baldwin said.

While all three men were walking at the party Sunday, Miller said he is still living at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and probably will be for at least another year while he recovers from his injuries.

Miller, of Carlisle, Pa., and Baldwin, of Chambersburg, were humbled by the commendation.

"I didn't do anything," Miller said. "I did what I was trained to do."

Baldwin, who considers Miller "the older brother he always wanted," politely disagreed.

"He did something exceptional in the line of duty," he said.

The U.S. Army also awarded Baldwin the Bronze Star for his efforts to save Miller from the vehicle.

"Even though he was injured, he pulled me down," Miller said. "He's like a brother."

The party was the VFW's way of honoring the unit and the fact that everyone in the troop came home alive, said George Kohler, past commander of Post 1599.

In addition to the party, the VFW also presented the members of the unit who served in Iraq with gold spurs, valued at a total of $3,500.

Wenzel said the spurs can only be worn by soldiers who have served in combat.

"Every young cavalry soldier wants to wear these," he said of the spurs.

The VFW also welcomed Santa to the party and gave all the children a gift of $10, Kohler said.

After the Christmas holiday, it is back to work for the unit, which will begin training again on the basics of the job, Wenzel said. The unit, which is based out of Chambersburg, returned home in early September.

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