Soldiers officially welcomed home
DANVILLE – When Spc. Givon Hall of the U.S. Army Reserve 332nd Quartermaster Battalion returned from a tour in Iraq in 2004, there was no community parade to celebrate his safe return, no crowd to shake his hand and thank him for his service to his country.
That's because when the Champaign man was deployed in March 2003, he was taken from his home unit in Danville to serve in another from Springfield, Ohio.
So his homecoming 14 months later was quiet and went unnoticed, other than by family and friends.
Until Sunday, that is.
About 50 people, including Army Reserve officials, local dignitaries and friends and family honored Hall and eight other battalion members who were deployed as part of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
At the celebration at Danville Area Community College, the soldiers were presented with encased U.S. flags, a "Welcome Home Citizen Warrior" flag, a specially designed commemorative coin and a commemorative lapel set for them and their spouses.
They also heard the words that were long overdue.
"Welcome home and well done," said State Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, who offered his thanks along with State Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Gifford; Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer; Lt. Col. George E. Gray, the battalion's commander; and Col. Jerry D. Porter, the ceremony's keynote speaker.
"(Freedom) never has been free. It never will be. There will always be a struggle to maintain it. Every time our country calls, we have people who answer," Black said, adding he is awed by them.
Besides thanking the soldiers, the speakers also thanked the military families.
"I think sometimes your sacrifices are overlooked," Black said.
Also honored were Staff Sgt. Charles High of Oakwood, who served in Kabul, Afghanistan; CMS Lynne Cheek, who served in Honduras; and Spcs. Jon K. Busby and Joseph Boeckman, Sgt. Dana Gonser, and Capts. Robert Phelps, Godby and Scott Van Zee, all of whom served in Iraq.
While overseas, the soldiers mainly worked logistics missions, said retired Master Sgt. Ron Torbet of Georgetown, who oversees training for the local battalion. They provided fuel, ammunition and water to combat soldiers in the front lines, and also provided convoy security.
Van Zee served as company commander of the 300th Quartermaster Company from Peru. From January 2003 to April 2004, he oversaw 111 soldiers who warehoused supplies, oversaw a retail fuel site and purified water near Tikrit.
While there, Van Zee's unit "adopted" two schools. Members used a bulldozer to widen a road, picked up garbage around the school, provided chalkboards and "boxes and boxes" of school supplies collected by his wife, Michelle, and other military families back home.
Van Zee even helped a teen boy learn to read, after the boy brought him a grammar book.
Hall, who was deployed with the 656th Transportation Company from Springfield, Ohio, hauled more than 10,000 gallons of jet fuel to various military posts. On one of those trips, his truck was hit by an improvised explosive device, and two other times, it was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
Hall recalls his truck coming under fire in the last attack. The next thing he knew, the truck was on top of him.
Now permanently disabled with nerve damage, Hall doesn't regret his service.
"My father served in Vietnam," said Hall, whose father died shortly before his son was deployed. "If he was alive, he would've told me this was something I signed up for."
Hall said he continues to support the war and President Bush's plan to send even more troops to Iraq. Van Zee does, too.
"I feel if we pull out too soon, they'll just get another leader that will do the same thing Saddam did," he said. "I have a 10-year-old son. If we don't finish what we started, and (Iraq) doesn't get a government set up, he will be there in 10 years."