Christina Grimsley hugs her father, Army National Guardsman Sgt. Paul Grimsley, at a homecoming ceremony Friday night at Kenai Municipal Airport. Grimsley is one of about 575 Alaska soldiers who have returned from a tour of duty in Kuwait and southern Iraq.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Scarcely one dry eye could be found at the Kenai Municipal Airport Friday afternoon as Army National Guardsman Pfc. Wilson House came home following a 15-month deployment to Kuwait.
Surrounded by about three dozen welcomers, House's sisters, Catherine, 12, and Donna, 19, were first in line to get big hugs from their brother; next were his mother and father, Leanne and Scott, himself a U.S. Navy veteran who served on a troop support ship during the Vietnam War.
Wilson House, a member of the 3rd Battalion, 297th Infantry, was among the 575 soldiers who began returning to Alaska this week.
"It feels good to be back in cold weather," said House upon his arrival in Kenai.
"It is so awesome to have him back," said sister, Catherine.
The soldier's mother said her first thought was to sure there is plenty of milk in the refrigerator, knowing her son has a big appetite for it.
When asked how it felt to have him safely home again, Leanne House said, "I didn't worry about him."
The 3rd Battalion, 297th Infantry suffered no casualties while serving in northern Kuwait and southern Iraq.
"We did find one (improvised explosive device) in our area," House said, whose job was to drive one of the new 1151 Humvees. "We never had any IEDs explode near us."
Kenai Mayor Pat Porter was on hand, along with members of the Welcome Home Committee, to greet the returning Guardsman. She presented him with a bouquet of fresh flowers on behalf of Kenai Peninsula residents.
House, who is in the third year of his six-year enlistment, said he has applications in and hopes to get an electronics technician job at Fort Richardson in Anchorage.
House is the second of 18 National Guard members from the Kenai Peninsula to return.
On Thursday, Staff Sgt. David Ahlberg arrived home to the waiting arms of his wife, Brenda, executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula, and sons, Johndavid and Merick.
Originally, most of the guard members were slated to arrive at 9:25 Thursday morning, but flight cancellations along the way from Camp Shelby, Miss., where they first landed from overseas, upset that schedule.
"He might be coming in at 8:41 tonight," said Nancy Ward of Nikiski, waiting for her son, Army Spc. Joshua Vanderzon on Thursday. "That's when the flight gets into Anchorage. We'll just hang around here and wait."
Vanderzon did not arrive Thursday and Ward returned to the airport on Friday to help greet House.
Jessica Grimaldi of Kenai, said, "They've been gone 15 months. They were in Kuwait," speaking of her husband, Army Pfc. Louis Grimaldi. Jessica was at the airport Thursday with her daughter, Kaitlyn, who was born Feb. 3, 2006.
"She was 6 months old when her dad left."
Susan Stockdale, of Nikiski, was waiting Thursday for her son, Pvt. Charles Garrison. "We're all just anxious. We thought they were going to be here this morning.
"When they left, we didn't expect there wouldn't be any casualties ... especially my son ... he was a gunner on a Humvee."
Stockdale and other members of the welcome squad, started painting signs two weeks ago and began putting them up Tuesday night.
"We'll just continue working on signs and hang around here," she said.
A group of soldiers' friends and relatives from the Kenai Peninsula made "Welcome Home" signs and posted them in and around the Kenai airport, and along the Kenai Spur Highway in Kenai.
"There will be 13 (soldiers) at the Nov. 10 ceremony (at the Kenai National Guard Armory)," Teri Stickler, a member of the welcome home committee, said.
Stickler, whose father was a veteran, and whose husband was in the Marine Corp in Vietnam, said, "It's important to give them a good welcome home ... not like during Vietnam. You don't have to support the war, but you have to support your servicemen."
Stickler had a red carpet to roll out when the soldiers' flights arrive.
The guard members are expected to be returning through the week.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at email@example.com.
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