National Guardsman Roy Brendible greets a small friend after the Twin Cities Salute to our Troops ceremony Saturday. Brendible was one of seven troops who returned to the Kenai Peninsula over a week ago after a 16-month deployment in Iraq.
Photos by John Hult
It was hard to find a parking space anywhere near the Kenai Armory at 2 p.m. Saturday. The armory’s lot was full, and the line of cars on North Forest Road stretched west from the Kenai Spur Highway for nearly a half mile.
The troops were home, and the peninsula was ready to thank them.
Tears were shed, hugs and handshakes were offered and the armory’s walls barely held in the applause as National Guardsmen Will Schwenke, Matt Lay, Roy Brendible, Ken Felche, John McGrane, Gregory Fite and Troy Zimmerman made their way to the stage at the Twin Cities Salute to Our Troops event.
The troops, who served as part of the National Guard B, 3rd Battalion (Scout) of the 297th Infantry, returned to Kenai more than a week ago. Fite, who works for Era Aviation, recalled arriving in Kenai during his remarks.
“I could not believe the Kenai airport held that many people,” he said.
Joel Burns of Soldotna and his 3-year-old son, Zach, look at a banner at the armory decorated by students at Nikiski North Star Elementary.
Photos by John Hult
Each of the soldiers were given a chance to speak during the event, after the introduction, music from the Kenai Central High School band, a rifle salute, an MIA ceremony and a speech from Major Simon Brown.
Major Brown spoke of the war on terror’s significance to the Alaska National Guard. He pointed out that once the 800 troops set to be deployed this summer leave for Iraq and Afghanistan, 90 percent of of the state’s Guard troops will have served.
“That’s unheard of in the history of the Alaska National Guard,” Brown said. “What these men here were a part of is truly historic in nature.”
Brown also read a declaration from Gov. Frank Murkowski proclaiming Saturday Honoring Alaska’s Military Service Members and Veteran’s Day.
Students at Nikiski North Star Elementary made a welcome banner for the Twin Cities Salute to our Troops ceremony on Saturday. Nikiski North Star was one of many area schools to design a welcome banner.
Photo by John Hult
A slide show featuring photos of the soldiers’ families and photos of them in Iraq followed, while local recording artist Bonnie Nichols sang her song, “Red, White and Blue over You.”
The soldiers gave their remarks after the slide show, and thanks were on the agenda. They thanked God for bringing them home safely, their families for staying strong in their absence and the community for the support at the event and during their deployment. There were teary moments during the speeches as specific contributions and moments were recalled, followed often by light-hearted moments.
“You know that candy you sent for us to give to the kids we ate some of it,” Schwenke said, referring to a care package sent by the Soldotna Rotary Club.
The event was capped with an invitation for all veterans to stand on the red carpet with the seven soldiers while the crowd waved flags and sang a medley of patriotic songs.
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