Ind. National Guardsmen home from Afghanistan remember fallen unit members

September 26, 2012 2:49:00 PM PDT
An Indiana National Guard unit that lost six members in Afghanistan were greeted by friends and family as they returned home Wednesday.

In all, 95 members of the Indiana National Guard 713th Engineer Company are back home. They found a hangar full of loved ones at the Gary Airport.

As a sea of relief washed over each soldier and each family, grateful thoughts turned to the hugs and kisses that will never be.

"All those guys are here with us all the time," said Specialist Roberto Solis, 713th Engineer Company.

It was last January when a roadside bomb took the lives of Specialists Christopher Patterson, Brian Leonhardt and Robert Tauteris and Staff Sergeant Jonathan Metzger.

Leonhardt was only 21 and on Wednesday his fellow guardsmen were welcomed home by his father.

"I want to meet his commander and as many of the guys as I can, shake their hand," said Bob Leonhardt, Brian's father, as he cried.

The four killed in the bombing were in the same vehicle with Specialist Doug Rachowicz who nearly died. He was pulled from the vehicle by his brother-in-law, Clint Jordan, and this was their first meeting since the blast.

"We felt like?if we could get one, you know," said Jordan.

"I'm so proud of him for what he did over there. And I love you. And I missed you," said Vicki Jordan, Clint's mother.

The 713th also lost Specialists Nicholas Taylor and Sergio Perez who were killed by small arms fire in an ambush.

"I would tell you these men, I'd serve again with them in a heartbeat. The most courageous men I ever knew," said Specialist Solis.

When the days were long and the road home seemingly longer, the words of the late Sergeant Metzger echoed in their heads. "Charlie Mike," he would say which stood for the words "continue mission."

"We knew we wouldn't make it home if we didn't stick together and just 'Charlie Mike,'" said Specialist Willie Cook, 713th Engineer Company.

On Wednesday, that mission ended with an honor forged through perseverance.

"We just held on to each other's hands and drove on, completed the mission, and made it home," said Sergeant Jordan.

The six deaths in July make this the deadliest deployment ever for the Indiana National Guard.


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