Janesville welcomes National Guard troops back from eight months in Iraq
Welcome home for the soldiers of Company A
Hundreds of well-wishers lined the streets of Janesville, Wis. Jan. 24, 2010, to welcome home Elkhorn- and Janesville-based Company A, 132nd Brigade Support Battalion if the 32nd Infantry Brigade. The unit was returning from an eight-month tour of duty in Iraq. Click to play
WCLO's Stan Stricker reports on welcome home for Alpha Company from Iraq
JANESVILLE Hundreds of people shivered in the cold, damp wind Sunday to give a warm welcome to soldiers returning from Iraq.
Two buses carrying Alpha Company of the 132nd Support Battalion arrived as scheduled.
People held signs of welcome and hooted, hollered and chanted “U.S.A!” as the buses rolled past the main group of people, who lined Milton Avenue from the post office to the Big Lots store.
The soldiers have been away for about a year, the last eight months in Iraq. They were among the 3,200 soldiers who were part of the biggest operational deployment of Wisconsin Guard troops since World War II.
They flew in to Camp Douglas one week ago but had to endure a week of processing at Fort McCoy.
The last leg of their long journey home appeared to be a joyful one. They rolled into town with an escort that included Janesville police and fire units, a Whitewater fire truck and a Rock County sheriff’s squad car.
Soldiers smiled and waved from the buses. Well-wishers lined Milton Avenue, Milwaukee Street and Main Street as the buses headed for their final stop, the National Guard Armory.
As they stepped off the buses, the soldiers of Alpha Company were free, after about a year, to do what most Americans take for granted—go home.
“Look at the escort they got. That’s what I call support,” remarked a family member at the armory as the buses arrived, followed by numerous fire trucks.
Alpha Company’s first sergeant, Carl Petrick, said the soldiers seemed to appreciate the welcome.
“They were overwhelmed at the amount of people lining the route as we came in,” Petrick said.
“It was emotional,” said Pfc. Joseph Pinterics of Mukwonago. “I liked it. I wasn’t expecting it to be quite that big.”
Much kissing and hugging ensued as the soldiers disembarked, still wearing their desert camouflage uniforms and toting camo backpacks.
The welcome started near the Interstate off-ramp, where a group of family and friends of Alpha Company member Tyler Eckelberg waited next to Bessie the Cow.
Bessie’s neck was festooned with a yellow ribbon, as were numerous trees and utility poles on the route.
“My son’s coming home. I’m excited,” said Deb Eckelberg of Janesville. Two of Tyler’s friends, Mitch Woodstock and Kyle Haney, rode their motorcycles to hail their friend’s return.
The Busse family of Milton waited near the Arby’s. Like many along the route, they had no family in Alpha Company, but they wanted to say thanks “because they served our country,” said Katie Busse, 14.
“We need to support them,” added Samantha Busse, 11.
“Didn’t we also talk about their sacrifices?” prompted Samantha’s dad, Mike.
Geralyn Kettermann of Fulton Township had only her mother’s dog, Wesley, for companionship on a lonely stretch of Milton Avenue. She held a sign: “All across Wisconsin, we support our troops.”
“I’m just so proud of these men and women,” Kettermann said.
Brooke Hodges, 6, of Janesville said she was standing along the parade route “to say thank-you to the soldiers.”
“Because they fight in the Army,” added her brother David, 4.
Well wishers included babes swathed in blankets and grizzled veterans wearing reminders of their time in service.
Dorothy Weber of Janesville wore her Marine Corps League hat. She was a Marine in World War II.
“I’m welcoming my comrades in arms home,” Weber said. “I wish they could all come home.”
Kevin Kelley of Janesville brought his family. He has two friends in Alpha Company.
“You gotta give those guys all the credit in the world, you know, just being away from their families,” Kelley said. “I drive semi, and I’m only gone a week at a time. I can’t imagine being gone for a whole year.”
As the buses neared, people piled out of cars where they had been keeping warm.
“This is fantastic. More people than I thought,” said Al Ostram of Janesville, the step-father of Alpha Company’s Christopher Schenk.
“Freedom is more important than football!” said a hand-lettered sign held by Joan Brayer of Janesville.
“I’m a big sports fan, but this is what it’s all about today,” Brayer said. “If we can’t do this much, there’s something wrong.”
Crystal Austin, mother of Staff Sgt. Jereme Austin, who came home from Iraq on Thursday, was there, waving a flag with the Red Arrow. The Red Arrow is the symbol of the 32nd Brigade, of which Alpha Company is a part.
Austin said she was having the same feelings on Milton Avenue as when her son walked up his driveway last week.
“Thank you for your sacrifice. This beer’s for you,” said a sign held by Cassie Everhart of Janesville.
“I figured they haven’t been in Wisconsin for a long time, so they probably want a beer,” she said.
Lucy Anderson, who led a group of volunteers organizing the parade, said she was impressed by the turnout, which she estimated was at least 3,000.
Anderson said she got to talk to Vietnam veterans before the parade. She told them that the parade was to welcome the troops home but that it was also in their honor because of the “wall of ignorance” they encountered when they came home.
Anderson is among the organizers of a formal welcome-home ceremony for Alpha Company in April. A date has not yet been set.