Remaining Danville guardsmen return home from Iraq

May 17, 2004|EMILY BURTON

Home was a place much imagined, e-mailed and missed by the remaining eight members of the Danville National Guard Unit 217 since they deployed to Iraq on Valentine's Day, 2003.

Saturday, home became real again.

Under rainy skies, beaming family members lined the drive to the Danville National Guard Armory to celebrate their soldiers' homecoming.

"I didn't sleep too much last night. I think I was up at 5 a.m.," said Treina Miller, wife of Sgt. Wendall D. Miller. Their two sons wore Great American Brass Band Festival T-shirts and hoisted miniature flags while waiting for their dad's arrival.

"(He went) to get all them bad people out of them buildings, but if they're good they could stay," explained his son, Isaiah Miller.

"I'm going to say, I want to get you a hug," said his young great-nephew Tra Carey.

Some young children would see their father for perhaps the first time. Waiting in the arms of his uncle, Michael Krueger was too young to say welcome home but looked on with wide eyes as his father, Spc. Kevin Krueger, arrived in desert fatigues.


"It was more difficult on the families than on the soldiers," said Sgt. First Class. Mark Metcalf, who returned from duty with the 217th Water Purification Unit last month as part of another eight-man deployment. "It was like, cut your life off, and the spouse or mother, pick up the day-to-day operations."

Families tried to keep in touch with e-mail, but there's nothing like being home, said Sgt. Miller. Surrounded by a pack of children, he paused before saying of his welcome, "Unbelievable. It's been a long time coming."

"The first thing I thought was, 'everybody's home safe'," said Metcalf.

Unit is expected to be redlined

After teary-eyed hugs the soldiers and their family gathered briefly for a homecoming ceremony. They were joined by the eight members of the 217th that returned from their tour of duty in Iraq last month. The unit is expected to be redlined now, said Metcalf, with no deployments scheduled for several years.

"It's not an easy mission, that operation over there. It's not an easy mission ... and we appreciate what you've done," said Boyle County Judge-executive Tony Wilder.

Kentucky National Guard Chief of Staff Col. Mike Sebastian congratulated the troops on a job well done. "I'm proud of you, Danville's proud of you, Kentucky's proud of you and the country is proud of you ... Great job."

After 16 months of riding in one form or another of army transport, the guardsmen and their families left in mini-vans and sedans to "go home, and just be at home," said Sgt. Miller. It was the ideal ending to a trying time, said his wife.

"On that Feb. 14, never did we think you'd be gone this long," said Treina Miller. "Never a day went by that you weren't in our hearts, our prayers, our minds."

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