Cities Welcome Home 'Adopted' Soldiers

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

BRENTWOOD, Tenn., Nov. 11, 2006 - Six cities delivered a simple message to about 750 of their extended family members here yesterday: "Welcome Home 1/327th Infantry Regiment."

Residents of Brentwood, Ashland City, Franklin and Winchester, Tenn., were joined by representatives of San Mateo and Burlingame, Calif., to welcome home the 101st Airborne Division's 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment based at Fort Campbell, Ky. That warm welcome came in the form of a parade down streets lined with cheering residents, but had little to do with the unseasonably warm temperatures, Brentwood Police Chief Ricky Watson said.

"I was in (the military) during the Vietnam era ... and I know the way that I was treated and I felt as though if I ever got to a point where I could do something to change that image that I would do my little part," Watson said. "So that certainly was a major factor in the decision to try to take care of these soldiers."

Watson, who served on active duty in the Air Force and as an Army National Guardsman for a total of about 12 years, spearheaded the effort to organize the parade.

The battalion spent a year in Iraq as the sole occupant of a forward operating base near the northern tip of the Sunni Triangle, according to battalion officials. During that time, each of the six cities made sure their adopted companies knew they were remembered back home.

"It's unbelievable -- packages, mail," Army Lt. Col. Marc Hutson, the battalion's commander, said. "Twenty-two years in the United States Army (and) I have never had the kind of support that we have with the battalion from all of these supportive and adopted cities."

Spc. Kenneth Boaldin, who served in Iraq with the battalion's Delta Company, agreed. "It's fun having a community like this support us," he said.

The parade was a fantastic conclusion to a year of constant support from the adopting cities, Hutson said. The battalion members wanted to thank the cities for all they had done for them, but their best intentions were foiled.

"Not a lot we can do. We can march. We wanted to come down and do a parade," he said. "Well they've taken control of that and done so much more and turned it around on us and are saying thank you back again to us. It's really awesome."

Brentwood's mayor lays something even more awesome on the city's faith. "Our prayers were answered," Joe Sweeney said. "Our company came home without a casualty.

"We're just so happy and thankful they're back home," he added.

Not every company was as fortunate as Echo Company, however. A banner carried in the parade listed the names of 11 soldiers of the 1st Battalion who made the ultimate sacrifice during the deployment. In honor and recognition of those fallen soldiers, a horse with no rider and boots backward in the stirrups followed the color guard.

The battalion may not have experienced such consistent, heartfelt support had it not been for Linda Patterson's brother, who served in the 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment's Alpha Company during Vietnam.

Patterson founded America Supporting Americans, with the key mission of connecting cities and units, after a receiving a request from her brother to help raise the morale of his unit, according to the organization's Web site. San Mateo, Calif., was the first to participate.

"The first unit of this battalion was adopted in 1968," Patterson said, referring to Alpha Company. "(San Mateo) has been supporting the troops through three conflicts now.

"That's what (America Supporting Americans) is all about. It's adopting the unit and sustaining the relationship with that community," she added.

America Supporting Americans is a member of America Supports You, a Defense Department program highlighting ways Americans and the corporate sector support the nation's servicemembers.

The 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment and its six adopting cities have built that relationship, and while the care packages and letters were huge morale boosts, Hutson said, a simple "Thank you" is just as powerful. The soldiers heard that phrase frequently yesterday.

"Those words, 'Thank you. You're a hero' - man, they're so simple, but they mean so much," he said. "There's no measure. It makes you stronger."

The day concluded with a picnic and musical entertainment in the soldiers' honor.

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