Salute to Freedom: State National Guard Honors Bosnia Vets, Families

Soldiers from a local Pennsylvania National Guard unit were honored Saturday after spending nearly 11 months of service away from home.

    Their families also were recognized at the Freedom Salute Ceremony hosted by Company B, 109th Mechanized Infantry, at the Grove Street armory.

    The ceremony was part of a nationwide Army National Guard campaign to honor guard members who have served in any of three operations in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to information provided by the guard. The campaign was organized by Army National Guard Director Lt. Gen. Roger C. Schultz and Command Sgt. Maj. A. Frank Lever III.

    “It’s great to know that the families care about us and all the recognition that we got for all of our services,” said Spc. James Calvert of Montoursville.

    Calvert served with 353 other soldiers from the 109th Mechanized Infantry in Bosnia-Hercegovina, said 1st Lt. Chris Roth of Hanover.

    The soldiers who served in Bosnia received encased American flags, commemorative coins, Defender of Freedom lapel insignia, and certificates signed by Schultz and Lever.

    The soldiers left Williamsport May 28, 2002. They received three months of training at Camp Shelby, Miss.; Fort Indiantown Gap; Fort Dix, N.J.; and Hohenfels, Germany, before being deployed Aug. 29 in Bosnia.

    “Our jobs pretty much were just to patrol around Bosnia and keep the peace,” said Pfc. Alan Lusk of Montoursville.

    Soldiers from the 109th infantry sought out war criminals while patrolling more than 2,000 square miles daily, Roth said. They also provided humanitarian support to the Bosnian people by requesting donations from home and providing a drug-awareness program to students in the city of Tuzla.

     The soldiers worked alongside soldiers from other North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations, including France, Turkey, Finland and Denmark.

    They arrived at Fort Dix March 20, 2003, and returned home more than a month later.

    Guard deployments differ greatly from those in past wars, creating a greater need for family support, said Command Sgt. Major Kenneth Hill, guest speaker at the ceremony.

    “Over wars we’ve had in the past, and over the campaigns that we’ve done where we’ve had to deploy the National Guard, the majority of the troops were not married,” Hill said. “It’s not that way anymore.”

    Those left behind are left with the responsibility of handling all of the day-to-day management of the household, as well as the stress of having a loved on in a war zone.

    “It was very stressful,” said Dawn Calvert, wife of James. “You have to stress about everything and worry, ’Is everything going to be OK?’”

    The Calverts have no children. Dawn said it probably would have been harder to cope with her husband’s deployment if they had children.

    “It would have been really hard to explain why he’s not home, when he’ll come back,” she said. “Calling and talking to him is hard enough all on its own for myself. Little kids wouldn’t understand you can only talk for three minutes.”

    Families also were recognized at the ceremony. Soldiers’ spouses received specially designed Defender of Freedom lapel insignia. Their children received Future Soldier footlocker kits, which included games, trading cards and a comic book.

    Melissa Robinson and Anice Ostrom were recognized for their work in organizing the Family Readiness Group, which provided support for soldiers and their families.

    “I’m very appreciative that all the soldiers have high respect and high regard for what we did as a group while they were gone,” said Ostrom, of Liberty.

    The group required a lot of work, she said.

    “I had over 6,000 miles on my car and I averaged 20-plus hours a week working with the unit,” she said.

    They did not act alone. Several others in the community, including students from Liberty and Jersey Shore elementary schools, showed support for the troops.

    “The students prepared care packages for the soldiers on about an every other month basis, where they sent them toothbrushes, letters, shampoo,” she said, “Anything they thought the soldier would like to have.”

    Students and faculty from those schools also were recognized.

As appearing in Sunday - May 16, 2004 edition of The Sun-Gazette