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National Guard soldiers return to Tell City

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Celebration to be scheduled in February

By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana National Guard soldiers returned from Iraq to Indianapolis Saturday, and got a brief moment to visit with their loved ones before continuing on to Camp Atterbury, where they were to undergo out-processing until Wednesday evening.

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“It’s a huge relief off our families’ shoulders, knowing their soldiers were home,” Lesa Baughman, president of the Family Readiness Group serving soldiers assigned to the Tell City armory, said Monday. “We’re so glad they got home safely. They’re still in our prayers; they have so much still to do.”

Because their arrival time in Tell City Wednesday wasn’t known and may have been rather late, Baughman was reluctant to schedule a welcome-home celebration then. One will be planned for February, she said, when the soldiers converge at the armory for a regular monthly drill session.

Kim Esarey of rural Tell City was among family members told to be in Indianapolis no earlier than 4 a.m. Saturday to greet the soldiers.

“The announcement was made around 6:30 that the plane had landed,” she said in an e-mail message to The News. “The crowd cheered, and as a mother, I have to tell you they were the best words I have heard since (son Cody Schnell) left.”

She was talking to Perry County resident Matt Voges, father of Josh Voges, right before the plane landed, she wrote, “and he also said that he would feel better as soon as the plane was on the ground on Indiana soil. What a relief.”

Hundreds of family members were there to greet their soldiers, she said. “Most families drove in the middle of the night to see their soldier for only an hour, but it was worth it.”

The families were directed to await their soldiers in a hangar at the National Guard’s Stout Field, not far from the international airport.

The soldiers’ buses were escorted by motorcyclists of the Patriot Guard, a nationwide organization formed in 2005 to shield families from protesters who demonstrate at soldiers’ funerals.

“When the crowd heard the roar of the motorcycles,” Esarey explained, “they screamed and cheered, knowing that they would see their soldier any minute.”

Patriot Guard members with flags formed two lines to frame the soldiers’ formation march into the building, Esarey wrote.

“I think the screams, applause and cheers could be heard in Perry County,” she said. “Everyone found their soldiers and were thrilled to see them and hug them, even though it was only for an hour.”

Baughman said even though the Tell City-based soldiers’ nighttime arrival would have made a city-wide welcome difficult, it will be important to honor them for their service. A homecoming will be scheduled some time in January in Indianapolis, she said.

The soldiers’ February drill will be the first time they’ll be assembled in Tell City.