August 1, 2009 in City, News

Guard unit makes it home

The Spokesman-Review
Colin Mulvany photo

Spc. Armando Aranda with the 81st Brigade Combat Team returns home from Iraq to an emotional welcome from friends and family Saturday at Fairchild Air Force Base.
(Full-size photo)

During their time in Iraq, soldiers from Eastern Washington in the Washington National Guard’s 81st Heavy Brigade Combat Team conducted convoy security missions out of Joint Base Balad in Balad, Iraq. The men and women traveled more than 1.7 million miles throughout central and northern Iraq on 1,800 convoy missions as part of the First Battalion, 161st Infantry. They transported 110 million gallons of fuel, 600,000 tons of supplies and 120 million gallons of water.

After almost a year away from their families, and putting themselves in harm’s way, 57 members of the Washington National Guard’s 81st Heavy Brigade Combat Team arrived home to cheers, applause, banners and waving American flags.

Family and friends waited in a darkened Washington Air National Guard hangar at Fairchild Air Force Base Saturday while a brass band played patriotic music. When the lights came on, a large bay door opened to reveal the Spokane Patriot Guard holding flags and lined up in front of the stairs to an airplane. The soldiers made their way down the stairs and into formation inside the hangar while the audience cheered.

Many family members wept during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Although it had been almost a year since they had seen their loved ones, the soldiers waited patiently to reunite with them during a short ceremony to officially welcome them home.

“It’s my pleasure to welcome you back to Washington soil,” Adjutant Gen. Timothy Lowenberg told the soldiers.

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner said a few words to the soldiers and their families, thanking them for their service and sacrifice.

“The scope of your responsibilities is just so impressive,” she said.

It’s been a long deployment for the men and women of the brigade. The soldiers mobilized on Aug. 18, 2008, and trained at Fort McCoy, Wis., and in Kuwait before arriving in Iraq last October.

Spec. Adam Rieker, 21, was welcomed by his mother, Connie Rieker, father Ron Rieker, and his fiancée, Jessica Briscoe. Now that he’s home, Rieker and Briscoe plan to marry in May 2010 and he is looking forward to hunting.

“We’re going to Cabela’s, actually. And then a beer,” Spec. Rieker said.

His parents were glad to have him home and expressed their pride in him.

“He’s wonderful,” Connie Rieker said. “I’ve missed him so much.”

“This is a new experience for us,” Ron Rieker said. “I’m glad to see him home safe.”

Spec. LeRoy DeWitt, 27, is planning on catching up on some sleep now that he’s home. After that, he hopes to pursue a degree in criminal justice to get a job in law enforcement.

His parents, Lori and Mike DeWitt, plus an aunt and uncle, were at Fairchild to welcome him home. Although he’s a grown man returning from war, he still holds a special place in his mother’s heart.

“He’s my baby,” she said.

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