KINGSFORD — Family and friends were more than excited to welcome their loved ones back from Afghanistan during a welcome home ceremony for the 1432nd Engineer Company on Thursday.
Approximately 1,000 people gathered at Kingsford High School to greet more than 90 soldiers from the 10-month deployment.
Gogebic County undersheriff Ross Solberg was among those soldiers from the Gogebic Range who returned Thursday. Gogebic County Sheriff Pete Matonich attended the ceremony.
Josh and Angela Reed, of Randville, and their two children, Izayah, 6, and Reihannen, 8, could not wait to welcome Dawn Bennett, of Randville.
“I am extremely proud of her,” Angela Reed said of her sister. “Her dog, Picasso, missed her the most.”
Angela Reed added her sister had a surprise waiting at home for her.
“We decorated her house for Christmas, Easter, St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and left her birthday presents. We also set up a Christmas tree and put presents underneath it,” she said.
For Christmas, Reihannen Reed wished for her aunt to be home.
After a two-hour wait for the buses to arrive, Reihannen Reed’s 2012 Christmas present finally arrived.
Wearing a bright orange T-shirt that read “I last hugged my auntie 329 days ago,” Reihannen Reed had tears in her eyes upon seeing and hugging her aunt.
“It’s pretty awesome to be home,” Bennett said. “I am really blessed to have such a great family and friends. Even though I don’t have kids of my own, I am happy to see my niece, nephew and dog.”
Also welcoming Bennett home from her first deployment were her mother Denise Edwards, stepfather Mark Edwards, and her friends and family from her place of employment, A&W Restaurant in Iron Mountain.
Bennett was one of three females deployed with the Kingsford unit.
Beth Pennanen, of Caspian, could not wait to welcome home her fiance, Michael Sexton, of Randville.
“The first few months were miserable,” said the Bay College student. “Then it got hectic and went by pretty quick. I’m so excited. Hurry up and get here.”
Cheryl Krasowski of Iron Mountain also couldn’t wait for her husband, Mike, to return from his second deployment.
“The Internet connection was not as great as when they went to Iraq,” she said. “It’s never easier when holidays come around and everything.”
Krasowski said she had a lot of support from the community with snowblowing and snowplowing and car difficulties while her husband was deployed.
“This deployment was not quite as long,” she added. “I am so glad they’re coming back, and they ended up bringing the sunshine with them.”
Temperatures rose into the high 40s and possibly even 50s on Thursday afternoon.
Iron Mountain native Tracy Mashak, wife of SSG Trever Mashak, of Appleton, Wis ., said this deployment did not go by as fast as everyone else thought it did.
Being their first year of marriage, Tracy Mashak said her husband wanted to go home as soon as the welcome home ceremony was over. She added her neighbors were awesome during her husband’s deployment and snowblowed her driveway this winter.
Everyone in the packed gymnasium cheered and clapped when the soldiers arrived at approximately 5:42 p.m.
Attending the ceremony were local officials, Kingsford Mayor Dennis Baldinelli, Iron Mountain Mayor Bruce Rosen, U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, and representatives from U.S. Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow’s offices.
Once in formation in the gymnasium, 177th Military Police Brigade Commander Steven Potter welcomed home the soldiers of the 1432 Engineering Company, thanked the elected officials for attending and the Patriot Guard Ride Team for escorting the soldiers home.
“These soldiers did incredible things in Afghanistan,” said Potter noting how they set a record for their success rate. “As we look to the future, this is a collective community. Your fellow family and soldiers are here for you. I am very proud of you.”
A yellow ribbon signed by the unit hung at the state headquarters until the units returned.
A plaque with the ribbon was presented at the ceremony.
“They have returned,” Potter said.
After arriving at the Sawyer International Airport in Marquette County on Thursday afternoon, soldiers loaded onto military buses. One of the buses had transmission problems, so it was replaced with a charter bus. The 4:45 p.m. arrival time was pushed back, delaying the ceremony by about an hour.
Several members of the community lined the streets to welcome home the soldiers, who were escorted by the Patriot Guard Ride Team and local law enforcement.
Capt. Todd Falor said this 10-month deployment seems like it was a long time ago, and there are good and bad memories.
While mobilized, the unit was combined with the Augusta based 1433rd Engineer Company and performed route clearance missions. They received mission specific training before deployment and post-mobilization debriefings at Fort Bliss, Texas.
The combined unit lost one soldier, Sgt. Kyle McCain, of Rochester Hills. Four others were injured and were wished well as they recover at a military hospital and at home.
Falor said these soldiers had a never-quit attitude.
The ceremony ended with a prayer, and the soldiers were released to their families and friends.
There were tears of joy, bear hugs and smiles all around.
Soldiers were heard saying, “It feels great to be home.”
Specialist Daven Bosma, of Hardwood, said it was awesome to be home.
“Seriously, it is nice to see sidewalks and actual vehicles,” he said. “It was nice to see everybody, and I want food.”
Editor’s note: Contact Lisa M. Reed at email@example.com.