Soldiers get a warm welcome home after their year in Iraq

Capt. Douglas Rapp (left) presents a flag to Joel Jerabek of United Technologies Electronic Controls in appreciation of UTEC's hospitality toward families of Indiana National Guard members.
Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Originally published Feb. 9, 2009.

The Guard is back in town.

The Huntington-based Team Delta of the Indiana National Guard received an official welcome home on Sunday, Feb. 1, just a day after a statewide ceremony at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

"On behalf of the state of Indiana, on behalf of the 50th District, which I represent, and on behalf of all of Huntington County - thank you so much, and welcome home," State Sen. Dan Leonard told the troops and their families assembled at Huntington University's Habecker Dining Commons.

Huntington Mayor Steve Updike echoed Leonard's sentiments, noting that the welcome these soldiers received was something that was lacking when he returned from Vietnam.

The unit actually returned from Iraq in early December, Capt. Douglas Rapp says, and some have already returned to their civilian jobs.

The company was mobilized for training in December 2007 and arrived in theater in late February 2008.

"We started with 124 and came home with 114," Rapp says - although he's quick to note that not all of the missing 10 were casualties of war. Some were medically unable to make the deployment, he says, and others came home early for hardship reasons.

One Team Delta member, though, did make the ultimate sacrifice.

Staff Sgt. Brian K. Miller, 37, of Pendleton, was killed Aug. 2, 2008, when the wrecker he was riding in rolled over. The accident happened near Abd Allah in southern Iraq.

The soldiers from Delta Company were based near Balad, Iraq, "pretty much dead center in the Sunni triangle," Rapp says, where they ran combat patrols and served as a convoy security company.

"We were pretty much the armed guards of the logisticians," Rapp says.

Most of the other companies serving alongside Team Delta remained on the base.

"We were among the small percentage of soldiers who actually left the base," Rapp says. "We were out making contact with the enemy."

Those responsibilities made for long hours and constant training, he says.

And Team Delta was very good at what it did, Rapp says - especially when it came to finding improvised explosive devices (IEDs) along the roadsides.

"We trained constantly to look for indicators, to study what roadside bombs look like," he says. "When you're moving down the road at 20 to 30 miles per hour, you're scanning the sides of the road, looking for something the size of a quarter or a small copper filament."

Three Delta soldiers received Purple Hearts for injuries they sustained from a roadside bomb, he says, but, for the most part, the company was highly successful in locating the IEDs.

"For every one bomb that went off, we found two," Rapp says.

Now that they're home, Rapp says, the unit will stay together and continue to train for its next mission - whether it is military in nature or assisting with a natural disaster at home. They'll also begin to become reintegrated in their communities, he says.

While many of the soldiers live in Huntington County, Rapp says, others come from as far away as Kentucky, Michigan and Illinois.

"They all come here because they love this unit," Rapp says.

Terika Walker's husband, Sgt. Aaron Walker, makes the seven-hour drive from the Kentucky-Tennessee border to Huntington for training sessions once a month, she says. He's originally from Marion, she explains, and moved to Kentucky after the two met and married.

The Walkers' infant daughter, Taleah Walker, was among a group of soldiers' children treated to balloon sculptures made by clowns at the dining commons.

The welcome home party started with a brunch and included awards handed out by Rapp, door prizes and activities for the children.

Rapp presented each of his soldiers with a limited edition numbered unit coin to mark their service in Iraq with Team Delta. Several other people, who assisted with the deployment but were not members of the unit, also received non-numbered coins.

Rapp offered special thanks to Joel Jerabek of United Technologies Electronic Controls. The company invited families of the soldiers to its Christmas party.

Parkview Huntington Hospital was also recognized for its donations to the unit and its support group.

The welcome home party was funded with a grant from the Huntington County Chapter of the American Red Cross.