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Arkansas National Guardsmen make their way back to Hood

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Posted: Sunday, November 7, 2004 12:00 pm | Updated: 3:14 pm, Wed Aug 15, 2012.

By Martha Underwood

Killeen Daily Herald

FORT HOOD Three generations of Kings cheered wildly as buses Saturday unloaded husband and father during their welcome-home ceremony from Iraq.

Arkansas National Guardsmen Sgt. David King and his son, Spc. Daniel King, had served in the 39th Brigade Combat Team under the 1st Cavalry Division in Baghdad, Iraq.

Amid music and an honor guard with 1st Cavalry mounted escort, the 267 Arkansas Guardsmen marched across the divisions Cooper Field for an official welcoming ceremony at Fort Hood.

We are proud of these guys, said Brig. Gen. Larry Halton, deputy adjutant of the Arkansas National Guard, who welcomed the troops. They proved that everyone in the National Guard can do the job with anyone. We are not second string.

The soldiers were among more than 3,000 Arkansas Guardsmen who mobilized in September and October 2003 and were trained and certified at Fort Hood before leaving for Iraq with the 1st Cavalry.

After the brief ceremony, Daniel Kings children, Damon and 4-year-old Alexis, his wife, Bethany, and his mother, Peggy, rushed onto the field and into the arms of the two guardsmen.

I cried when I saw him, Bethany King said. Im so glad to see him and get him safely back home.

During the deployment, Bethany said she had shown pictures to Alexis to try to keep the memory of Daddy and Paps, her grandfather, fresh for the little one. Both men also telephoned home when Alexis was there, so she has talked to them frequently, Bethany said.

Sgt. Robert Hartgraves from Melbourne, Ark., savored his new surroundings, pleased to be away from the trash heaps in Baghdad and the smell of the residents burning it.

It feels good to be home, Hartgraves said. It smells good.

Hartgraves said he appreciated the support his unit received while in Iraq.

We got a lot of care packages, he said.

The Arkansas troops are infantry and military police. Their mission in Baghdad was the training of the fledgling Iraqi police force.

They do the best they can with what they have, said Sgt. Donovan Gandolph of Hot Springs, Ark.

The guardsmen are expected to remain at the Central Texas post until Thursday for medical exams and debriefings. Guard officials in Arkansas had recommended their families not come to Texas to greet the soldiers.

Most complied with the request. But after a two-year mobilization that had the guardsmen first serving on peacekeeping duties in the Sinai, some found the additional wait too much to bear.

We came anyway, Bethany King said. I dont care if I just get to see him five minutes.

Sgt. Shawn Vanderploeg of Fort Smith, Ark., said he will see his wife and 13-year old daughter when his unit returns to Arkansas.

The troops have been mobilized twice since 1999.

They first guarded Patriot missiles from 1999 to 2000 in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Their latest mobilization took them to Egypt on a Sinai peacekeeping mission in 2002 and then to Iraq. They were sent home before Iraqs elections, scheduled for January, after reaching a 24-month mobilization limit in place for the nations part-time soldiers, a Fort Hood news release stated.

Although few families were at Fort Hood to greet the guardsmen, a local crowd of more than 100 came to welcome the soldiers home.

No one should come home to an empty field, said Kathy Edwards, a family readiness group leader from a Fort Hood-based unit. We are here to shout and cheer and probably cry.

Sgt. Sophia Liles, a 1st Cavalry soldier home for surgery after being wounded in a mortar attack, greeted the returning guardsmen.

They are 1st Cav, too, and I just came to show support, Liles said.

Astrid Kroontji brought her brother, who was visiting from Germany, to the welcoming ceremony.

It is nice they do this for those guys, she said. Sometimes the reserves get left out.

Kroontjis husband is in Iraq with the 13th Corps Support Command. Her son was reactivated with the Texas Reserves and will leave in January for Iraq.

One comes (home), one goes, Kroontji said.

Contact Martha Underwood at marthau@kdhnews.com

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