Today, I had the great honor of going to Camp Ripley to welcome home the returning Minnesota National Guard soldiers returning from a 22 month deployment. Sixteen of those months were spent in Iraq. My friend Julie’s husband Bill was one of the returning soldiers.
Over the weekend, I made signs. I made a sort of “burma shave” type sign with the message:
Soldiers, because of your Bravery, Courage and Sacrifce, Freedom is still ours. We are deeply grateful.
The message was broken up into 5 signs. I also made a few that said Welcome Home, Thank you Bulls (they are the Red Bulls).
My friend, Ann, and I left work at 8:30 and pounded in signs along Highway 10. We arrived at Camp Ripley at 9:30 and we were the first ones there. Julie and her family followed shortly after that.
There were 20 soldiers on the bus and they left from Ft. McCoy, Wisconsin early this a.m. They have a police escort and do not have to stop for signs…they get to drive straight through. After they got off the interstate, they went through a few smaller towns including Royalton which is where Bill and Julie and their 2 kids live. Bill is on the volunteer fire department.
My mom and dad were in Royalton and people gathered to cheer as the bus drove through town. They also drove through Little Falls, where many people gathered to welcome them home.
There were about 150 people gathered to greet the returning soldiers including other soldiers who were already at the camp. It was very exciting…there were many signs, balloons, lots of red, white and blue clothes. A couple people had dogs…I bet those soldiers were so happy to see their faithful companion!!
The bus ended up being about 35 minutes late, but I think that is because they drove slower thru the smaller towns. We could tell when they were getting close to the camp because you could hear all the sirens. There were about 5 motorcycles with American Flags, then the troopers, then THE BUS!!! You could just feel the excitement in the air and when the bus rounded the last corner and started beeping the horn it was awesome.
There was lots of hugging, lots of tears, and huge smiles!!!! I took lots of photos of Julie and her family, but also other reunions…it was just fantastic to witness and I was so honored to be there.
I don’t think Bill wanted to stick around too long…after all that time, I am sure he wanted to just “go home.” We all followed Julie and Bill’s car and made a little detour in Royalton. Waiting for him there was the Rescue Squad and Fire Truck…he got on top of the fire truck and held the American Flag!
We followed them and drove through town. Lights, Sirens, Horns and lots of cheering! It was amazing…have I already said that?
It was so awesome…exciting…amazing…exhilerating….AND I HOPE NOT TO EVER HAVE TO DO IT AGAIN!