Soldiers praised for bravery at homecoming celebration

Skye Kinkade
Duane Stacher of Etna and Mount Shasta's Michael Smith accept yellow roses from Junior Girl Scouts during Saturday morning's homecoming celebration for the 132nd MRBC. Also pictured are Dunsmuir's Joe Hatten and Captain Adam Rix of Sacramento. The soldiers then took the yellow roses and presented them to their loved ones who supported them during their deployment to Afghanistan.  Photo by Skye Kinkade

During the approximately nine months the 132nd MRBC spent in Afghanistan, they dealt with several dangerous situations, including an IED attack, a suicide bomber and fire from armed insurgents.

Despite the hardships, all of them, including 17 soldiers from Siskiyou County, returned to the US safely in January. On Saturday morning, they were officially welcomed home during a well-attended ceremony in the Mount Shasta High School gymnasium.

The soldiers received high praise from their commander, Captain Adam Rix, as well as Major General David Baldwin, a two-star general who is the Adjutant General of the California Military Department.

While in Afghanistan, the company built, inspected, tore down and replaced more bridges than any other MRBC, said Rix. Two local soldiers, including Forest Rose of Etna, received Purple Hearts.

The six local soldiers attending Saturday's ceremony were Rose, Scott Brigham of Weed, Steven Brummett of Montague, Duane Stacher of Etna, Michael Smith of Mount Shasta, and Joe Hatten of Dunsmuir.

The others are stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash., and Fort Dix, NJ, clearing up medical issues, said Dan Dorsey, founder of the Home Guard, which provides assistance to the families of deployed soldiers in their absence.

The ceremony included performances by trumpeters Jeff Whitney and Dan Deal, a presentation of colors by the Marine Corps League and the CDF bagpipe team, an invocation by Reverend Andy Grossman, and a benediction by Siskiyou County Sheriff Chaplain Keith Bradley. A rousing rendition of the National Anthem was provided by Gina and Katie Fritze. Members of several local Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops welcomed them home.

Girl Scouts presented each soldier with a yellow rose. The soldiers then took the roses and gave them to their own family members who supported them during their deployment.

Speakers included Dorsey, Siskiyou County Veterans Services Officer Tim Grenvik, Sheriff Jon Lopey, Sergeant First Class Stacher, Captain Rix, and Major General Baldwin.

Stacher said he joined the military in the early 1970s during a time when it was not a popular choice.

"What's different today were the thousands of cards, letters, and pictures drawn by schoolchildren, handmade quilts and care packages we received," Stacher said. "We knew we are supported."

Stacher thanked the many people in Home Guard who supported his family while he was overseas.

Praise for soldiers

"The turnout today is a testament to the dedication of this community and the quality of the citizens I serve," said Rix.

He explained there are 185 soldiers that serve in the 132nd MRBC, headquartered in northern California, which includes two bridge platoons and a support platoon, as well as a headquarters section that provides reconnaissance, administration and logistics support. Siskiyou County soldiers served in each one of these capacities, he said: Master Sergeant Brummett led the reconnaissance team; Hatten was his "right hand man" in charge of the operations center; Sergeant First Class Mark Apland was a platoon sergeant for the 1st Bridge Platoon; and Sergeant First Class Stacher served as the platoon sergeant for the support platoon. The others were all part of the first platoon.

While they were overseas, the 132nd was the only bridge building company in all of Afghanistan and they took over responsibility in late spring.

Rix spoke of the dangerous situations they encountered.

Shortly after arriving in the country, the 132nd was asked to build a bridge along a dangerous stretch of the main highway, Rix said. While they were working on a bridge, Romanian soldiers warned them there may be "contact" within the next hour.

As warned, two insurgents on motorcycles approached them and opened fire. Because the soldiers knew what to do in such a situation, no one was hurt and the threat was neutralized.

Once they were safe, the soldiers continued working over 30 hours straight to complete their mission, Rix said.

In early July, a vehicle in their convoy was attacked by an IED while crossing a bridge, Rix said. Specialist Forest Rose and another Siskiyou County soldier were injured.

"Despite his condition, (Rose) provided cover fire," Rix said.

Rose chose to stay in Afghanistan and didn't return home until January with the other soldiers.

In another instance, while doing emergency repair work on a bridge damaged by flooding, Rix said soldiers from the first platoon came under direct fire and within close proximity to the detonation of a suicide bomber.

Rix also called attention to Sergeant Smith, who pointed out some important details on a bridge abutment that were incorrectly constructed by Navy Seabees. Were it not for his initiative to inform superior Navy officers of the problem, the bridge building mission would have failed, Rix said.

Despite the dangers and hardships, Rix said the soldiers did their jobs, and did them well.

"To me, these are admirable testaments of courage," Rix said. "If (these soldiers) didn't tell you, their friends and family, I thought you deserved to hear it."

Rix said in the months they were in Afghanistan, soldiers received 1,300 care packages from home. The influx prompted him to assign additional duties to help manage the correspondence

"There was never a moment when there wasn't a pile of letters and packages making their way to my desk," Rix said.

In closing, Rix told the audience his time with the 132nd will be "the highlight of my career" and called it "an experience that cannot be matched."

Rix received a standing ovation after his comments. He then presented Dorsey with two flags – a California state flag and an American flag – which were flown over Camp Leatherneck, where they were stationed.

Baldwin, who was invited to speak by Lopey, said he visited Afghanistan a few weeks after the 132nd had left. While he was there, he heard nothing but compliments and praise about the company, who accomplished more during their deployment than any other company.

"I'm soundly impressed... none performed like them under such arduous conditions... I'm truly proud."

Baldwin also noted the "tremendous community support" of Siskiyou County. "You are all geat patriots and Americans," he told the crowd.

During his comments, Lopey said 2,166 soldiers have been killed since Operation Enduring Freedom began on Oct. 10, 2001. A total of 18,299 have been wounded.

He said the 132nd MRBC is special because they "literally built bridges" between peace, hope and freedom and the women and men in a nation of war.

They're not finished

Dorsey said the Home Guard is not finished now that the 132nd is home. He urged anyone who knows of a soldier from Siskiyou County who is currently overseas to let Home Guard know so they can offer support of dozens of volunteers.

"Home Guard is here to stay until they all come home," Dorsey said.

To contact Dorsey with the name of a local soldier deployed or to offer volunteer services for Home Guard, call 926-2528.