Bittersweet return for National Guard unit

June 18, 2008 4:03:25 PM PDT
An Illinois National Guard unit returned home Wednesday following its tour of duty in Iraq. It's a bittersweet homecoming for the 80 soldiers from the 708th Medical Company. Members of the unit lost one of their colleagues in Iraq. A 20-year-old medic from the western suburbs died in a crash last November.

These soldiers served a year in Iraq. They traveled more than 105,000 miles throughout their deployment, providing medical care for close to 3,000 patients. Their commander said they have cared for, touched and saved many lives of American and coalition forces, as well as Iraqi civilians.

Family and friends waited anxiously to welcome home the Illinois Army National Guard soldiers from the 708th Medical Company Ground Ambulance from North Riverside. The company returned from spending a year away from family in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Erin greeted husband Chris Kramer with a big welcome home kiss.

"It's been a long deployment, so it's good to be home," said Chris Kramer, returning National Guard.

"I couldn't be much happier right now," said Erin Kramer, Chris's wife.

"It's been a long deployment. It's good to be home," said Curly Curry, returning National Guard.

"It's been a tough year," said Marie Curry, Curry's mother.

One by one they were treated to a hero's homecoming. Their superiors welcomed them back before releasing them to their loved ones

Gathia Dunn was greeted by his wife and retired Army veteran father, mother and children.

"I'm glad to be home ," said Gathia Dunn, returning National Guard.

"I spent 22 years in the military hoping that I would be the one to get the call. Never got the call. My son got the call, stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park," said Gathia Dunn Jr., Gathia the Third's father.

"We accomplished a lot. It's a great unit. It was a great mission," said Alejandro Lopez, returning National Guard.

One member of the unit, Ashley Sietsema, died last November in a rollover accident in Kuwait. Officials say she was the first soldier to die from the armory in North Riverside.

"She was a good friend of mine. It was hard at the beginning, but we all came together and got through it," said Lopez.

The soldiers could not wait to leave the armory and get back to their homes.

These soldiers are looking forward to resuming their old life, but their superiors say reintegration is not just reunion. It's part of the process of feeling at home again. Every military service has post-deployment programs to help smooth the reintegration process.


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