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Battalion that lost 4 returns home

July 30, 2009 4:41:39 PM PDT
It's a bittersweet homecoming for another Illinois National Guard unit back from Afghanistan.Four members of the Company D First Battalion, 178th Infantry died during the yearlong deployment in Afghanistan.

Three Guardsmen died in the same roadside bombing in March. Another member died of non-combat-related injuries.

The bus carrying the soldiers arrived just after 11:30 a.m. Thursday. Hundreds of people were there to meet them in the main square of Woodstock.

"This is a little overwhelming to be honest with you," said one soldier.

"I'm at a loss," said Lt. Jerry Dickson, soldier.

"He's safe. Now I just have to worry about my other son who is in Iraq. He will be back in 12 months," said Kathy Porth, soldier's mom.

The 50 citizen soldiers are one of two units of the Illinois National Guard's 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team welcomed home Thursday. The other unit, Company A, is based out of Bartonville, Ill. and had 80 soldiers return home.

The 33rd has deployed 3,000 troops for a yearlong tour in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, making it the largest deployment of the Guard since World War II. While in Afghanistan, the soldiers started construction on three schools, 21 wells and one bridge.

Seventeen National Guardsmen from the 178th Infantry have died during deployment. With four fatalities, the Woodstock company has sustained the heaviest casualties. Those soldiers were remembered amidst the celebrations.

Sgt. Christopher Abeyta, of Midlothian; Sgt. Robert Weinger, of Round Lake Beach; and Spc. Norman Cain III, of Mount Morris were killed in a roadside bomb in March. Sgt. Lukasz Saczek, of Lake in the Hills, died May 10 from non-combat related injuries.

"Norman would have wanted me to be here to celebrate his unit coming home," said Lisa Otto, Cain's mother.

"I was just telling someone, their sons are good guys, they're all good guys too and we'll always remember them," said Sgt. Rick Barnes, returning soldier.

"Two days ago, I received a call that they were stateside. My son didn't call home like he did when he came back from Iraq. My son should have been the one to do that. And my son's not coming off that bus," said Sue Weinger, Weinger's Mother.

Many of the 33 units from the Illinois National Guard are still in Afghanistan. They will all be back by the end of summer.

Taskforce Bayonet has been awarded six Purple Hearts, 30 Bronze Stars, 71 Combat Infantryman Badges, 16 Combat Action Badges and eight Combat Medical Badges.


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