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296th saluted for its service

Soldiers of the Army Reserve’s 296th Transportation Company andtheir families were lauded for their achievements during anofficial homecoming celebration Saturday.

Brigadier General Thomas Bryson, deputy commander of the 296th’sheadquarters unit, said the unit accomplished every objective putbefore them, and they were selected because the command elementknew without a doubt that they would.

“Before you left, I was asked several times ‘Why the 296th?'”Bryson said. “I’m ready to tell you now. The 296th was selectedbecause it was a ready unit, and it was one of the best. And youproved that in theater. You ought to be proud of that and proud ofthe history of this unit. It has always performed well when calledupon.”

Bryson also complimented the families for their support of theunit and told them their soldiers had a quality beyond price.

“Some of them have brought back memories and some lastingfriendships, but most importantly, they have all come home withtheir honor,” he said. “They demonstrated their commitment to theirword when they served without complaint through the sacrifices ofservice and I’m here to honor them for that commitment.”

A highlight of the homecoming was when Bryson presented Spc.Brandy Taylor of Leakesville with the Purple Heart medal for aninjury she received during a mortar attack. Taylor is the first andonly Mississippi woman to have received the medal.

Several local dignitaries were also present for the homecoming,including District 92 Representative Dr. Jim Barnett, District 39Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, Sheriff Wiley Calcote and BrookhavenPolice Chief Pap Henderson.

“The last thing all of you want is a speech,” said Dr. Barnett,”so I’m just going to say thank you, we’re glad you’re home and Godbless.”

Hyde-Smith told the soldiers they defined sacrifice by missingthe ball games and school programs of their children and especiallyby missing family gatherings.

“Many people can define sacrifice, but most cannot define it asclearly as you can,” she said. “I’m honored to be surrounded bysuch heroes.”

Colonel Robert Kenyon, commander of the 641st Area SupportGroup, with which the 296th recently attached, said it was thosesacrifices by the soldiers and families that make the war onterrorism possible.

He added, however, that the soldiers also owed thanks of theirown.

“Remember to thank your employers. Without their support itwould be impossible for you to be citizen soldiers,” Kenyon said.”You also owe thanks to your co-workers. Someone had to fill thatgap and do your job while you were gone. You owe them a debt ofgratitude also.”

The day was mostly attended by soldiers, their families andfriends, and public officials. The public greeted the soldierswarmly by meeting them at the armory when they returned fromsupporting combat operations in Iraq in September, but few showedfor the official homecoming this weekend.

Deborah Tinsdale of Hattiesburg said she came to honor thesoldiers and her son, Sgt. Anthony Williams. It was an importantday, but she said she could understand the lack of publicattendance and added that the public did its part in September.

“(Today) means a great deal, but (the Army) should have done itwhen they first got back,” Tinsdale said. “Still, it’s an honor forthem to recognize the soldiers who went over there and theirachievements. I know it means a lot to them.”