NEWS

Delaware Guard unit receives warm welcome home from Iraq

Shauna McVey

Applause rang out Wednesday at the Delaware Air National Guard Airbase when Maj. Gen. Frank Vavala announced that all 148 soldiers of the Delaware Army National Guard’s 153rd Military Police Company who were deployed to Iraq had returned home safely.

“It’s a glorious and miraculous day,” said Vavala, the adjunct general of the Delaware National Guard.

The unit was deployed to Iraq in September 2007, but left Delaware last June for training at Fort Dix, N.J. It was the largest unit of soldiers deployed from Delaware since World War II and the second deployment for about half of the Delaware City-based unit.

The hangar where the welcome-home ceremony was held was packed with family members who hadn’t seen the soldiers since they were allowed a short visit home five months ago.

Vavala said the highlight of his 41-year military career came when he visited the unit overseas in February.

 “They were in a terribly harsh environment performing very dangerous missions,” he said. “They completed more than 600 missions and drove more than a half million miles, safely. As I look out on you, I’m filled with pride and joy.”

Vavala said the soldiers earned 19 bronze stars, 130 Army commendation medals and 22 Army achievement medals.

First Sgt. Michael Fields of Middletown joked that the overwhelming applause made him feel like he was running for president.

Vavala thanked the families of the soldiers.

 “You served nobly in every sense of the word,” he said. “You also are true heroes.”

In the two months before their deployment, 19 of the soldiers were married and six welcomed a new child.

More than 20 babies were born to the unit since its deployment nearly a year ago, and at least one more is on the way. Middletown resident Sgt. Roger McCall and his wife, Nicole, are expecting their first child in four months.