Siskiyou County soldiers welcomed home

Skye Kinkade
Sgt. Michael Smith of Mount Shasta is reunited with his son, Hunter, after nearly a year’s deployment in Afghanistan with the 132nd detachment of the Army National Guard. Smith was among 16 Siskiyou County soldiers who were welcomed home by family and friends over the past week.

"This is amazing... it almost doesn’t seem real, I’ve been thinking about it for so long,” said Mount Shasta’s Sgt. Michael Smith when he walked into a roomful of family and friends after returning from a year’s deployment in Afghanistan.

His first hug went to his nine year old son Hunter, who had no idea he’d be reunited with his dad when he went to lunch at Round Table Pizza in Yreka Monday afternoon.

“I just can’t believe he’s here!” Hunter said as he clutched his dad around the waist with a big smile on his face.

Smith is one of 16 Siskiyou County soldiers who arrived at airports in Redding and Medford over the past few days. Though the soldiers have been on US soil for about two weeks, Smith and others from the 132nd unit of the National Guard arrived home to the west coast on different flights and at different times for security purposes.

Sgt. Joe Hatten of Dunsmuir was also reunited with his family Sunday evening. He was met by his daughter Jessica and wife Debi at the Redding Municipal Airport.

Sgt. Jason Twitchell of Yreka flew into the Rogue Valley International Airport in Medford at midnight on Sunday, where he was greeted by his wife Annick and his seven month old son, Colton.

Colton was born on June 19, 2012, while Twitchell was stationed overseas. The proud father got to hold his son for the first time Sunday.

“There are a lot of good homecoming stories,” Smith said.

While they were deployed, Smith said he and the rest of the 132nd Multi-Role Bridge Company were kept busy, and this helped keep their minds off what they were missing at home.

Smith said he’s particularly proud that his platoon built more bridges than any bridge company ever deployed to Afghanistan.

According to information from the National Guard, the 132nd MRBC built nine bridges during their deployment, tore down seven and fixed more than 60. They also inspected more than 30 buildings.

Eleven of the more than 150 soldiers from the 132nd MRBC received Purple Hearts for their injuries, but none were killed, according to the National Guard.

Smith said not a week went by that he and his fellow soldiers didn’t receive a care package or a card from people back home.

“We were always getting things to remind us that people were thinking of us... it’s humbling to be a part of such a great community that showed us so much support,” Smith said.

The Home Guard, which was established in 2011 to support the families of deployed soldiers while their loved ones were overseas, organized community groups to send care packages once a month.

Home Guard founder Dan Dorsey also organized a Christmas card campaign, and hundreds of cards were sent from south Siskiyou County to Afghanistan over the holidays.

The Home Guard is busy planning a Welcome Home Ceremony for March 16 at 11 a.m. at Mount Shasta High School. Dorsey said he hopes this ceremony will be bigger than the departure ceremony, which took place Feb 18, 2012 and attracted more than 500 well wishers from across Siskiyou County.

“We want to make it really special, but we want to give the soldiers time to be with their families,” Dorsey said.

Now that he’s home, Smith will have time to get used to how tall Hunter has grown in the past 12 months. He’ll also have plenty of time to spend in the fresh Siskiyou County air.

“Everything smells so nice... the mountain, the trees,” Smith said. “I got to drive my truck and my dog was waiting for me... it’s been a good day.”