412th gets official welcome home

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 19, 2009

Although they returned home from a year-long deployment in Iraq nearly four months ago, 74 soldiers with the 412th Theater Engineer Command were honored Saturday with a Welcome Home Warrior-Citizen ceremony at the command’s headquarters on Porters Chapel Road.

“Without soldiers like you, the nation would not be able to carry out its strategic plans,” Maj. Gen. Paul Hamm, commanding general of the 412th, told the approximately 200 soldiers and family members in attendance. “You have left a legacy of historic proportions throughout Iraq.”

Along with the homecoming ceremony, the 412th honored 22 reservists with promotions and awarded six Combat Action Badges and one Purple Heart.

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The 74 soldiers given the official welcome home Saturday had returned stateside Dec. 29, 2008. They deployed together Jan. 25, 2008, and arrived in Iraq Feb. 23 following training at Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg. The soldiers, whom collectively call 26 states and Germany and Korea home, worked in support of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division, which is headquartered in Baghdad and directs work in the North, Central and South districts. Nineteen of the soldiers are from Mississippi, and a handful are Vicksburg natives.

They worked on infrastructure projects while in Iraq, including constructing hospitals, schools and sewer systems. Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Bailey of Vicksburg said the work was rewarding beyond his expectations. 

“You wouldn’t believe it if you saw it, all of the progress going on there,” he said. “It’s pretty amazing to get to see the rebuilding of a country almost from scratch.”

Lt. Col. Marshall Banks, also of Vicksburg, agreed, and said working on schools gave him his greatest sense of accomplishment.

“Seeing them get off the ground really gives you a feeling that you’re doing something to improve their lives,” he said. “I’d like to go back as a civilian years from now and see how everything has come along.”

Bailey and Banks were among the 25 of the 74 returning soldiers on hand Saturday to receive the Welcome Home Warrior-Citizen Award in person. Another welcome home ceremony is being held separately in Orlando to accommodate 412th soldiers who could not be in Vicksburg.

The Welcome Home Warrior-Citizen Award Program was created by President George W. Bush and Congress in 2004 to acknowledge service abroad by soldiers in the Army Reserve, such as those with the 412th. Each soldier who deploys is presented an encased American flag upon returning home, as well as a specially-designed commemorative coin and certificate, a Welcome Home Warrior-Citizen flag and a lapel pin set for the soldier and his or her spouse.

Banks said his deployment taught him to appreciate the small things in life, and he had looked most forward to spending time with his wife, Jannifer, 4-year-old daughter, Katelin, and 10-year-old son, Marshall, while serving in Iraq.

“When you experience something like that, you tend to not take anything for granted,” said Bailey, who has also served in Germany with the 412th. “It makes you take a whole new look at your life.”

Bailey agreed. When he’s not busy at his full-time job as an instructor at Hinds Community College or drilling with the 412th, Bailey said he’s been spending his time with his wife, Jessica, and their 2-year-old daughter, Bellamy, since returning home.

“You look at everything a little differently and figure out what’s really important,” he said.  

For some of the returning 412th soldiers, last year’s deployment was their second or third to Iraq or Afghanistan. Unless they volunteer to deploy beforehand, Hamm said all can be sure they will not deploy again for at least a year. While he praised all the men and women in his command for their past and continued service, Hamm said the country is equally indebted to the families who support the soldiers during deployment and at home.

“They have an equally tough job, and we are very much in debt to all of them for the sacrifices they make,” he said.

The 412th command, formed in 1923 as the 372nd Engineers, was designated the 412th Engineer Brigade in 1949 and became the 412th Engineer Command in 1971. The 412th has three brigades and 96 other assigned units under its command, comprising approximately 10,000 soldiers throughout the southern and northeastern United States. It has been headquartered in Vicksburg since 1949.


Contact Steve Sanoski at ssanoski@vicksburgpost.com