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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Guard unit gets a big thank-you

Washington National Guard soldiers sat in the shade Sunday with their spouses and children as the U.S. Army began a campaign to say, “Thank you for your service.”

About 200 members of the 81st Brigade and their families came to Clear Lake, 15 miles west of Spokane, to receive a medal, a pin for their spouses or significant others, and a box of comics and games for their children.

Families and soldiers were being honored in the start of a series of ceremonies being held throughout the year for Guard members.

“It means a lot. It helps me feel like we were recognized for what we’ve done,” said Pfc. Andrew Bowers, a Shadle Park High School graduate.

Bowers knew from the time he was 8 that he was going into the Army. His father was a Marine. His grandfathers had also been U.S. soldiers.

However, no one told him he’d be in Iraq when his fiancee went into labor. He went over last fall and returned in March. She went into labor New Year’s Eve.

“I was on the phone for four hours,” he said Sunday afternoon, sitting with his son, fiancee and her two children.

His fiancee, Donna Triolo, said there were times she wondered how she’d manage alone. But like so many other families affected by the war in Iraq, they made it work.

“I don’t know how I kept it all together,” Triolo said. “At the time it seemed like it took forever. Now that it’s over, it doesn’t seem very long or that it even happened at all.”

Sunday’s ceremony fell on the same date as a drilling weekend, when soldiers conduct military exercises rather than eat barbecued hamburgers and sit on blankets with their children.

Spc. Dan Metze of Deer Park said it was a nice family break while tending to his twin daughters as he headed over to join the other soldiers in formation. When civilians ask him what his five-month tour in Iraq was like, he’ll generally say, “It’s hot.”

It’s sort of an unwritten law that veterans don’t talk about their experiences, something touched upon by retired Army Gen. Terry Reed in his speech to the crowd.

“Without speaking a word of it, you know what being a veteran means,” Reed said. “I would venture a guess that some of you have changed a little bit.”

Mostly he praised them for doing their duty and returning home safely. Then he called on them to apply their skills and leadership to their community and churches.

Bowers plans to attend Spokane Community College to become a medical assistant. Metze has almost completed a Web-design program, also at SCC.

Row by row, soldiers with their families and significant others were called up from their folding chairs. They shook hands with their command leaders and were handed a glass case with an American flag. The also received a limited-edition coin and a medal. Their domestic partners were presented a pin. Children were handed a Monopoly-sized box filled with trading cards, glossy military pictures and games.

“Early recruiting material,” Bowers said while smiling and coaxing his children to share the gifts.

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