Saturday, July 05, 2003
Siloam Springs : Battery B back in Hog country
BY MICHELLE BRADFORD
Posted on Friday, July 4, 2003
SILOAM SPRINGS — During the past 10 months, a Northwest Arkansas unit of the Army National Guard has earned a reputation for bringing Southern hospitality to Arizona’s high desert. "Everywhere we went, whether it was shopping at Wal-Mart or to get a haircut, people would stop us and say, ‘You’re with that unit from Arkansas. We’re so glad you’re here, ’" 1 st Sgt. Tom Rhamy said Thursday.
Rhamy and the rest of Battery B, 2 nd Battalion of the 142 nd Field Artillery Brigade gathered Thursday for a homecoming party at the Siloam Springs armory.
The 94-man battery is fresh off a 10-month homeland security assignment at Fort Huachuca, Ariz. Since September, the unit has controlled access to the 114-square-mile U.S. Army intelligence base.
Southeast of Tucson, Fort Huachuca is in the foothills of the Huachuca Mountains and surrounded by the Sonoran Desert. "Ten months ago today we were mobilized and left a lot of you at home," Capt. Shelby Heflin told the guardsmen and their families Thursday. "This [party] is for those of you who’ve had to carry the load at home. You’ve made quite a sacrifice. We appreciate it."
Heflin, the battery commander, said guardsmen are happy to be back with their wives, children and Multiple Launch Rocket System — the unit’s main weapon.
Smiles were wide when guardsmen finished their mission June 13 and left Arizona for Fort Chaffee, Heflin said. There, they trained with their rocket system for about a week, then spent another seven days in demobilization at Fort Sill, Okla.
Demobilization involved paperwork required for the completion of active duty status and physical and medical exams. Guardsmen were also reminded of the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act of 1994.
It requires employers to rehire guardsmen and reservists in the same job at the same pay when they return from duty. Rhamy said most Battery B guardsmen have been assured by their employers that jobs they left are waiting for them.
Waiting for Sgt. Dusty Hern at the armory was Daddy’s Little Buddy. Dyllen Hern was born April 29 while Dusty Hern was at Fort Huachuca. "He’s what happened while I was gone," Dusty Hern said of the infant in a camouflage Tshirt. "Well, he actually happened before you were gone," his wife, Becka Hern, said.
Dozens of area businesses and residents pitched in for Thursday’s homecoming by donating door prizes, food and their time.
Toddlers sprayed water guns and ducked under rows of tables in the un-air-conditioned armory. The aroma of barbecue tempted those around it. Guardsmen held their wives’ hands and rubbed their shoulders.
Walter Gray, owner of Tower BBQ in Siloam Springs, smoked chicken donated by Tyson and served enough Tower ribs to feed 200. "The wives started out making cupcakes, and we stepped in to make sure there would be plenty to eat for everyone," Gray said. "It’s the right thing to do. These men have gone off and protected all the values we cherish so much. I wouldn’t have it any other way."
Securing Fort Huachuca wasn’t the standard mission for the 142 nd Brigade.
Nicknamed "Lethal Weapon" after its rocket system, the brigade is trained to obliterate the enemy with heavy field artillery.
At Fort Huachuca, guardsmen checked people and vehicles entering the base and manned swift-action response teams.
The mission freed up Fort Huachuca military police to focus on a stretch near the U. S.-Mexico border where homeland security concerns are high. Military police set up surveillance posts on a southern edge of the base, which is nine miles from Mexico.
Battery B was known on base as the friendly soldiers who "called the Hogs" and deep-fried whole turkeys at Thanksgiving.
They were replaced by an Army National Guard unit from Phoenix.
The Department of Defense activated selected National Guard units across the county to secure military bases after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Heflin said Fort Huachuca officials honored the guardsmen with plaques, certificates and an Arizona flag flown over the capitol at Phoenix in their honor. "They really hated to see us go," he said.