Soldiers welcomed home in Homewood

July 10, 2010 (HOMEWOOD)

They served long deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq; some were overseas for 400 days.

"Everybody came back safely," said Spc. Eric Seip of Crown Point, Ind. "It's fantastic that we all did."

For many, this was their second or third deployment, and that is one reason that village leaders wanted to honor them during the suburb's annual festival.

The community joined together to honor 115 citizen soldiers who returned in recent months, reuniting families after often-lengthy deployments.

"It was a lot rougher on my wife... she was the one that talked to me every day with mom and dad," said Oak Lawn resident Spc. Vincent Sutter. "They've been at home taking care of the kids and I'm over there just sucking it up."

Sutter's wife, Alexis, said she took her husband's return as a chance to give him an almost certainly welcome surprise.

"I met him at the airport, and I kind of hid back and waited 'til he walked out and jumped on him," said Alexis. "It was so nice to finally have him home."

The returning soldiers are members of the 308th Civil Affairs Brigade - drawn from all over the Chicago region. Their mission overseas: Rebuild Iraqi and Afghan infrastructure as well provide humanitarian relief to locals left in war's wake.

Perhaps more than anyone else, the men and women returning home after lengthy times abroad realize the meaning of America's presence in Afghanistan for nine years and Iraq for more than seven.

"At a point in time when we have an all-volunteer force, we rely upon you to uphold our nation's might and stand up for our national interests more now than ever," said Col. Ronald Jones of the U.S. Army.

The town's slogan is "Home Sweet Homewood," a slogan that rang true Saturday.

"I just cry because we're really, really proud of our soldiers," said Homewood resident Chris Weaver."

One Vietnam War veteran who watched the parade and ceremony marveled at how different this welcome was from the one he received when he came home from Vietnam.

He said members of his unit were told not to wear their uniforms in public for fear that public anger with the war would be taken out on them.

One of the veterans returning home today said she is touched by the support she feels from her countrymen.

"Whether Americans support the war or not they really provide us so much patriotic support, and it's overwhelming," said Lt. Col. Arthurine Jones of Matteson. "It's very emotional as well."

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