By Megan Just, 452nd Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
/ Published February 05, 2010
MORENO VALLEY, Calif --
A crowd of over 200 family members gathered at March Air Reserve Base Wednesday to welcome home 60 Soldiers from the Army Reserve's 437th Medical Company Ground Ambulance.
The Soldiers, who are based adjacent to March Air Reserve Base, deployed to Kuwait last March. While deployed, Soldiers in the company were spread across six camps in Kuwait to provide medical care and support for evacuations to Landstuhl Army Medical Center in Germany. The Soldiers also served as medics on 310 convoys in Kuwait and Iraq. Additionally, they taught combat life saving courses to fellow Soldiers and screened 250,000 service members and defense contractors for the H1N1 virus.
For Sgt. Corina Dominguez, who lives in Baldwin Park, Calif., teaching the CLS courses was one of the most rewarding experiences during deployment. "We were able to train Soldiers and empower them to go out and assist the force," she said. "As a medic, it's unrealistic for us to be everywhere."
Pfc. Matt Maul, a Denver, Colo., native who cross-mobilized with the 437th, accompanied 49 convoys. Fortunately, none of the convoys encountered any improvised explosive devices.
"Medics always say we don't want bad things to happen, but we want to be there when they do," Private Maul said.
Sgt. Jose Gonzalez of Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., spent the first six months of deployment in Kuwait's Camp Virginia, where he responded to "911" calls--72 of them, to be exact.
In the clinics at the camps in Kuwait, some of the Soldiers were surprised at how routine most of the day-to-day medical needs were.
"Ironically, it wasn't heat stroke or heat injuries which, at 130 degrees out there on average, you should have seen a lot," Private Maul observed. "The most common injuries we saw were strains, sprains, bug bites and a lot of [hygiene-related] infections."
Likewise, Staff Sgt. Joel Ableson of Las Vegas said, "Soldiers get sick in country [Kuwait and Iraq], just like they would back in the United States."
The 437th Soldiers flew into the Ontario International Airport Wednesday morning after several days of demobilization screening and training at Fort Lewis, Wash. Their family members assembled in front of the Cultural Resources Center at March Air Reserve Base well ahead of schedule and waited there with a palpable sense of anticipation.
Sheila Hale of Perris, Calif., was at the base welcoming home her son-in-law, Spc. Benjamin Francois. "I'm elated that he's made it back home safe," she said.
Hale said she was looking forward to watching her daughter and her son-in-law get their lives back together after the deployment. The couple now has an eight-month old daughter, Jada, who was born the day after Specialist Francois came home on mid-deployment leave.
Julius Dominguez, the young son of Spc. William Dominguez, was looking forward to having his dad back. "I want to play football and do my homework with him," he said. "I miss him a lot."
The excitement in the crowd grew as the family members spotted the Soldiers' bus parked stealthily in the distance. Minutes later, the Soldiers marched around the corner and onto the parade field for a final group portrait. Family members cheered and clapped from where they stood across Baucom Avenue.
But, it wasn't yet time for hugs and reunions; there was still an important Warrior-Citizen Welcome Home Ceremony to attend. The WCWHC is a special U.S. Army program designed to convey gratitude for the unique sacrifices Army Reserve Soldiers and their families make in support of the Global War On Terror in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In the auditorium, after the family members were seated, the Soldiers filed in from the side entrance. To flashing cameras and another wave of cheers, the Soldiers took their seats in a reserved section at the rear of the auditorium. A few cunning children did what the rest of the crowd wished they could do: break free from the front and rush to their loved one in the back.
The Warrior-Citizen Welcome Home Ceremony began with Pvt. Jonathan Akemon's performance of "Missing You," a song he wrote specially for the occasion. A slideshow of photographs from the 437th's deployment played on a projection screen during the song. 1st Lt. David Sarmiento, chaplain for the Air National Guard's 163rd Reconnaissance Wing at March ARB, gave the invocation.
After the posting of the colors, Kim Francois, wife of Specialist Francois, sang an a cappella rendition of the National Anthem. After, the Master of Ceremonies, 2nd Lt. Adrian Padilla, introduced Col. Jane Rutledge, who was representing Col. Odis Blueitt , commander of the 2nd Medical Brigade. Col. Darlene Santos, commander of the 349th Combat Support Hospital in Bell, Calif., was the keynote speaker.
"I'm very proud to have as high of a caliber of a unit under our hospital as the 437th is. You are national heroes. You are family heroes. You are community heroes," Colonel Santos said. "I personally admire and respect each one of you."
The Soldiers then walked on stage, one by one, to accept their welcome home gifts. Each Solider received an American flag in an engraved wooden display case, a commemorative coin, a citizen-warrior flag and a lapel pin set for their spouse.
Staff Sgt. Wayne Elliot, the unit's administrator, who retired two months ago from the 437th Company after a 36-year career in the Army and Army Reserve, made a special appearance at the welcome home ceremony. The Soldiers presented him with a sword.
"It was a long year for me, waiting for you guys to get back," he said to them.
On behalf of the 437th's full-time military staff, 1st. Lt. Neco Armstrong thanked the members of the family readiness group for their support and presented them with Army Reserve certificates of appreciation.
The military staff also gave a special thanks to Laura Froehlich and the volunteers at the March ARB deployment center for donating the refreshments for the ceremony. A year before, when the 437th had embarked for Kuwait via March, Froehlich had been planeside to see each of the Soldiers off.
After the ceremony, the Soldiers formed on the parade ground for one final pep talk from the company's commander, Capt. James Harris. The family members filed out of the auditorium just in time to see 1st Sergeant Angela Warner order a final set of push-ups for the men and women.
The Soldiers dropped to the grass for their push-ups, shouted their unit's motto, "You call, we haul," and then, finally, it was time to reunite with their loved ones.
The 437th Company was last deployed from 2003-2004, where they were responsible for transporting patients from the forward combat areas to the rear hospitals in Kuwait. During this deployment, the company tragically lost one of their Soldiers.
Sixty Soldiers from the 2009-2010 deployment returned home safely Wednesday, while 13 had deployment extensions and will return in May.
While deployed, Sergeant Abelson auditioned for a role in the Elvis-themed musical, "All Shook Up." He earned a position with the ensemble and will begin rehearsals as soon as he gets back to Las Vegas.
Sergeant Gonzalez looks forward to going back to school, spending time with his wife and returning to his job with a company that installs home theaters and sound systems.
Sergeant Dominguez said she is most looking forward to going to the little league park with her daughter, whose softball league will begin soon. She's also planning to begin medical school this summer.