Why was it such a fitting occasion?
For starters, this group of men and women are heroic warriors in the eyes of their families, their friends, their community and most certainly their country. Secondly, their arrival came just in time for the close of a late-July heat wave whose searing temperatures have soared into triple digits ... and we don’t even want to think about the Heat Index values.
While family members, friends and supporters baked in the convection-like sun and wiped away beads of sweat with handkerchiefs, towels and sleeves, the returning soldiers took it in stride. Spc. John Frizzell of Cleveland, who was welcomed by his six-month bride, Heather, laughed at a reporter’s question about the mercury. It seems a few days earlier the desert sun in Al Kut, Iraq reached 151 degrees.
Suddenly we’re feeling much better about 100!
Heartwarming is a suitable word to describe last Sunday’s welcome home. These soldiers put their lives on the line literally every day that they served in Iraq. Theirs was a mission of longevity aimed at the big picture. It was their job to train the Iraqi police and security forces. For the fledgling government to survive, its law enforcement and security forces must be stable, reliable and trustworthy.
The 252nd’s mission of securing Iraq’s police — which strengthens the country’s future — obviously marks them as targets by insurgents whose murderous assault focuses on two goals: Destabilizing the country and killing foreign soldiers ... namely Americans and their allies.
We are thankful the 252nd has returned safely. It is our hope they will be allowed to remain on American soil to resume their lives as husbands, wives, income-earners, community enthusiasts and civic leaders. Yet, rumors already abound — as quickly as last weekend at the welcoming celebration — that the unit could face yet another deployment, this time to the treacherous battlegrounds of Afghanistan.
Perhaps wishing for a short-term resolution to both campaigns — Iraq, and especially the escalating war in Afghanistan — is asking too much. We believe it is coming in Iraq. Many returning soldiers, whether from the 252nd or from the 278th Armored Regiment of the Tennessee National Guard, are returning home optimistic about the future of Iraq.
War-torn Afghanistan could be another matter. American soldiers are now well into their second military campaign in this mountainous region whose Taliban and al-Qaida insurgencies seek to do what oppressors could not do in Iraq — dominate through force while decimating the will, endurance and independence of the populace.
The fire of freedom, fueled by a determined American military, burns hot in Iraq. It blazes like the afternoon desert sun. It will not be doused by those who hold no sanctity for human life, expression and liberty.
It’s an even more formidable fight in Afghanistan, but American forces continue to meet the call. Soldiers like those in the 278th, and certainly our returning heroes of the 252nd, are the reasons the quest for freedom will continue to burn in countries around the world.
We thank the 252nd, the 278th and so many others who have fought so very bravely.
You are heroes in our hearts.
Yet, we pray your return home will be a long-lasting one.