After more than nine months on duty in Iraq, the approximate 130 local guardsmen returned back home to Indiana amid cheers and rousing applause as they marched in formation into Building 9 at Stout Field between a row of American flags.
Many of those waiting for these hometown Hoosier heroes held up specially-crafted welcome home signs, others stretched to see their favorite soldier and loved one as they paraded in front of them, amid a steady series of flashes from scores of digital cameras.
Indiana's Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger -- the top commanding officer in the Indiana National Guard -- addressed the crowd of several thousand Friday morning prior to the arrival of the local Guardsmen from Iraq.
He called the troops "great Hoosiers and great Americans."
"I just want to say to all of you on behalf of Gov. (Mitch) Daniels and the 6 1/2 million Hoosiers, thank you for your sacrifice you all did as a family of your loved ones who have been deployed. You can be very proud of them. We are very proud of you. You are the ones who stayed home and kept the home running fine. When you wear the uniform and you have a spouse or a mother or father or a loved one, you've served as well. So, all of us thank you for your sacrifice over the last year," he said.
Major General Umbarger spoke about a trip he made to visit the Hoosier troops in Iraq about six months ago.
"I had the opportunity to speak to a lot of the commanders that your soldiers work for and here is what I heard each and every time. They could not believe the discipline and the professionalism of the Indiana National Guard soldiers. They did their job well. They served their country well. We are glad to have them home," he said. "I told them I kind of hate that they were the one group (returning home) that spent Thanksgiving (Day) in the air. We are going to get them through Camp Atterbury safely and get them back home to you."
Company A, 151st Soldiers completed a total of 210 combat logistics patrols transporting more than 7,800 foreign national loads and 3,800 contractor and U.S. military loads across Iraq.
The flight -- carrying about 380 Hoosier National Guardsmen -- landed at Indianapolis International Airport at about 4 a.m., actually nearly 30 minutes head of schedule.
After being processed through baggage and customs and turning in what soldiers call sensitive items -- weapons and night vision goggles -- to military policemen, the soldiers were bussed to Stout Field at 2002 S. Holt Road, Building 9 where family and friends visited with the Guardsmen for about one hour before they departed to begin demobilization activities Camp Atterbury near Edinburgh.
The process is expected to take between three and five days. Then the troops will be released to go home and resume their family lives.
A community celebration at the Linton Armory is tentatively planned to coincide with the return of the troops from Camp Atterbury, according to local Family Readiness Group (FRG) coordinator Kristi Bladen. Details are still being worked out and will be announced when a more exact time is known for the troops back to the community, she said.
In addition, a large-scale welcome home celebration for the Indiana National Guard troops will be hosted sometime in January at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis to recognize the returned troops.
Other National Guard troops on Friday's flight were Company B, 76th Special Troops Battalion based in Indianapolis; Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 76th Special Troops Battalion also based in Indianapolis; Company A, 1st Battalion, 293rd Infantry based in Warsaw.
While deployed Company A, 151st soldiers from armories in Linton and Vincennes completed a total of 210 combat logistics patrols transporting more than 7,800 foreign national loads and 3,800 contractor and U.S. military loads across Iraq.
The approximate 3,400 members of the 76th Brigade who were put on active duty -- starting in early December 2007-- composed the deployment of citizen soldiers in the state of Indiana since World War II.
Other 76th Brigade National Guardsmen returned in two separate flights Thanksgiving Day.
The morning flight on Thursday included members of Company A, 1st Battalion, 293rd Infantry based in Warsaw; Company E, 113th based in Fort Wayne; Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 151st Infantry based in Jasper; Company D, 1st Battalion, 151st Infantry based in Washington; and Battery A, 2nd Battalion, 150th Field Artillery based in Greencastle.
An evening flight had soldiers from Headquarters and Headquarters Troop 1st Squadron, 152nd Reconnaissance Surveillance and Target Acquisition based in New Albany.; Troop A, 1st Squadron, 152nd Reconnaissance Surveillance and Target Acquisition based in Madison; and Troop C, 1st Squadron, 152nd Reconnaissance Surveillance and Target Acquisition based in Salem.
First Sgt. Darrin Carlson, of Clay City, completed his third overseas deployment -- once to Bosnia and twice to Iraq in 2003 -- when the mission was to find IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and this year, when the primary mission for convoy support.
He said having a high level of military experience from several members of Alpha Company helps things out.
"I would say 60 percent of my company had been deployed more than once," Carlson said. "Those things made this mission safer. That experience level, the maturity level that always helps. That makes it easier for the younger soldiers -- the newer ones -- to pick up fast what they need to learn over there," he pointed out.
Carlson, who works as an officer at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility at Carlisle, admitted it was good to be back home.
"It's always a good feeling to get everyone home. We got everyone home in once piece," he said.
He was also impressed to see hundreds of people get out at just after 4 a.m. to greet the soldiers when they returned.
"This is a great thing. It's good for the families. It's a shame it was only an hour," he pointed out. "We're excited to get the demobilization process done and get everybody home for good."
Carlson said the mission was different this time and there wasn't a lot of close contact with Iraqi citizens.
"This time our mission was to escort conveys and move supplies throughout the battlefield. I think it was an easier overall mission, but the danger was probably as high -- if not higher on this one. Things have calmed down over there. We had several Purple Hearts and seen some stuff, but everything worked out fine," he said.