Coming home from a war zone, particularly were there are no clearly defined front lines and death can lurk in the most innocent looking situation, requires as much personal adjustment, for both family and soldier, as leaving for war in the first place. The primary difference lies in the obviousness of the challenge.
That was the message of Major General David L. Evans, Commanding General, 80th Division, U.S. Army Reserve, to 83 reservists honored Sunday morning during a "Welcome Home Warrior-Citizen Ceremony" at Fort Belvoir's Wallace Theatre. They had spent the last 12 months in various provinces of Iraq and Afghanistan working on democracy in the shadow of an illusive, dedicated enemy of them and their mission.
"Your biggest challenge now is to re-establish your lives with your family, your employers and your community. Both you as warriors and those you left behind at home have changed. I urge you to be patient with those changes. It will take time to re-adjust," Evans told the troops assembled before him.
"Do not be afraid to seek advice and counseling. Recognize that those changes have taken place. Take this advice from someone who has been there and made some of those mistakes," Evans said.
"Just as the generation of World War II was considered the greatest generation of the 20th century, you are the true heroes of this generation in this fight against global terrorism. You will be considered the greatest generation of this century," Evans proclaimed.
"All of us here today are glad you are home. We are here to honor both you and your families for your sacrifices," he said.
His words were buttressed by U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-11). "Congress may have differences about the war. But, there are no differences about our troops. You are the best in the world," Davis said.
There was a special recognition for four members of the unit that were not at the ceremony — two had been killed in combat and two had died of other causes.
Lt. Col. Thomas A. Wren, of Lorton, was killed in action, Nov. 5, 2005 at Talil Air Base Iraq. Staff Sgt. Robert Hernandez, was killed by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) on March 28, 2006 at Habbaniyah, Iraq; Sgt. First Class Otie McVey, was diagnosed with cancer shortly after his arrival in Iraq and died in Beaver, W.V., on Nov. 7, 2004; and Sgt. First Class Daniel Cissel, died Feb. 24, 2006, in an automobile accident while home on medical leave. Of the 800 deployed 54 were wounded during their tour of duty.
IN ADDITION TO the soldiers, families and employers were also recognized for their sacrifices and support during the deployment. Receiving special recognition were six wives who formed and oversaw Family Readiness Groups. Each received the Commander's Award for Public Service.
Leading the six was Shannon Duckworth whose husband, Maj. Eric J. Duckworth, spent his tour serving as a Military Transition Team Advisor and Support to the emerging Iraqi Army. Residents of the Del Ray section of Alexandria, Major Duckworth has his civilian office in Crystal City were he is employed as a defense consultant with Booz Allen.
"My mission took me to several areas of Iraq as an advisor to the Iraqi Army's 5th Division. By the time we were ready to leave that Iraqi leadership was very competent and organized. And, it was composed of all elements of Iraq citizenry," he said.
"We started by actually living with them to have day-to-day control. Then over a period of time we moved into a support position. By the end of our year they were running the operation," Duckworth said.
As for Shannon, "The deployment was a reaction I had never experienced before. But, being a part of the Family Readiness Group and especially being the leader of that effort for the 6th Brigade was very rewarding," she said.
She and Eric were married shortly before he came off five years active duty with the military. "I tried to re-enlist on Sept. 10, 2001, because I felt I had left the military too soon. But, that didn't work out so I went into the Reserve and figured they'd call me when I was needed," he said.
"I do foresee being recalled again within the next five years because I still have 12 years left before retirement eligibility. But, in my case, with the job I have, I find a great balance between military service and my civilian career," Duckworth said. During his deployment Duckworth was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, Combat Action Badge, and OIF Campaign Ribbon.
"I would have no difficulty with Eric going back in the service or back on active duty for another deployment. I've always had the utmost respect for the military," Shannon said.
WITH OVER 3,000 MEMBERS, the 80th Division has units located in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Soldiers with the Division have been mobilized within the nation as well as being deployed to many foreign assignments, particularly in the Middle East.
Sunday's ceremony was part of a program authorized by Congress and the White House to recognize and honor those Army Reservists who serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. "The Welcome Home Warrior-Citizen Award Program provides an appropriate, timely and enduring memento to soldiers and their families," according to the ceremony's program.
Each of the 83 present received an encased American Flag, a specially designed commemorative coin, and a lapel pin set. Each was also presented with a "Welcome Home Warrior-Citizen" flag. These awards are being presented throughout the nation to reservists called to active duty in combat areas.
As stated by Evans at the commencement of the two hour ceremony, "Heroes are remembered for an overwhelming display of courage during a significant event in time. Warriors are remembered for their many sacrifices and endurance demonstrated on the battlefield over a period of time."
After reading a proclamation adopted by the Virginia General Assembly to honor the sacrifices made by both the troops and their families, Evans noted, "Army Reserve soldiers who participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom have truly earned the title "Warrior-Citizen."