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Welcome home service set for 296th soldiers

Part of Brookhaven’s military family is inviting the public toassist in welcoming home a small group of warriors who recentlyreturned from the Middle East.

The Army Reserve’s 296th Transportation Company will be throwinga welcome party at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 9, at the reservecenter to salute, thank and welcome seven soldiers home from a yearof serving in Iraq.

First Lieutenant Fern Freeman, Staff Sgt. Emanuel Sutton, StaffSgt. Larry Blanks, Staff Sgt. Herbert Brown, Sgt. Sancho Brown,Spc. Jerry Arrington and Spc. David Walters recently completed adeployment to Iraq that began in June 2007.

Sgt. Paul Hunsinger said the welcoming ceremony would be thrownto celebrate the fact that all seven soldiers returned “safe andsound” from a dangerous and demanding duty – convoy operations.

“They were taking supplies and necessary equipment to theforward operating bases in Iraq,” he said. “It’s a very dangerousmission, with IEDs (improvised explosive device) and everythingthat’s going on over there, and a lot of their missions would taketwo or three days at a time.”

The seven soldiers performed their duties well while attached tothe 206th Transportation Company of Opelika, Ala. in Iraq, and willbe honored for their service at the welcoming party in August.

Hunsinger said Brookhaven and Lincoln County governmentofficials, police, sheriff’s and fire departments, the AmericanLegion and Veterans of Foreign Wars and the general public havebeen invited to witness the awarding of a Bronze Star and severalArmy Commendation Medals among the returning soldiers. Each of theseven will also receive a Global War on Terrorism ExpeditionaryMedal and an Iraqi Campaign Medal.

First Sgt. Susan Bolton said it was “100 percent very high inimportance” that the public attends the ceremony in August to letthe soldiers know their service has been appreciated.

“We need to let our soldiers know that they have a lot ofsupport – after all, they’ve been in Iraq defending our nation,”she said. “It’s important to get some people together to let themknow they were missed and what they were doing in theater means alot to the unit, the Army and the nation.”

Bolton said members of the public could help with thecelebration by donating to the reserve center’s Family ReadinessFund, an account used to pay for gatherings like August’scelebration and to help soldiers during times of need.

“We’re always looking for monetary donations so we can havefamily functions and buy supplies and equipment for the unit,” shesaid. “We can also use the fund if our soldiers have any kind ofproblems – we can help them out financially.”

Aside from monetary contributions, Bolton said the public coulddonate any kind of food items, share special recipes or just showup at the celebration to show appreciation.

“Anything to make these guys feel comfortable and welcomed backinto the community,” she said.

National polls show the economy has taken the position ofhighest importance among voters for the 2008 elections, butconflict in Iraq and Afghanistan is ongoing. Even as the 296thmakes plans to welcome back seven veterans, 11 more were deployedfrom the company to Iraq Thursday.

Bolton said the latest deployment marks the second time membersof the 296th have been deployed within the last year. The last timethe full unit was deployed was at the beginning of the Iraq War inearly 2003.

Thursday’s deployment saw 11 non-commissioned officers fromBrookhaven, Hattiesburg and Jackson, all privates first class andspecialists, attached to the 911 Transportation Company of NorthCarolina. They will be in Iraq for 12 to 13 months, Boltonsaid.

“The 296th is actually a filler unit,” Bolton said. “All 11 arevery young, and are going our by themselves as a small group -probably because they’re going with another unit that just doesn’thaven enough enlisted personnel.”

Bolton said high command contacts the 296th and outlines themission and how many soldiers are needed. The call could come atany time.

“We sit around and wait for some kind of notification everyday,” she said. “Everyone is prepared to make the sacrifice.”

Soldiers included in the latest deployment are Pfc. RaveenBradley, Pfc. Michael Cloud, Pfc. Toan Hoang, Pfc. James Martin,Spc. Cory Allen, Spc. Trevis Graves, Spc. Eddie Johnson, Spc. AlvinMagee, Spc. Timothy McDonald, Spc. Travis Roberts and Spc. BiancaJagers.