PORTAGE (WKZO) --The 507th has returned home to a big celebration. They were greeted by well over a thousand family members and friends in a packed Portage Central High School Gym, and with a Who’s Who of local officials on hand to say “welcome home”.
The 160 men and women in the engineering unit spent the last ten months fixing bridges and roads, sometimes under fire. Their most dangerous job was clearing roads of the I.E.D. and other traps that have made service in Afghanistan such a deadly enterprise for U.S. Troops. In fact it cost 25-year-old Specialist Kyle B. McClain, a member of the 507th, from Rochester Hills, his life near Salim Aka last summer.
They marched into the packed gym in single file, giving the folks in the grandstands a chance to see them come in. They filed into two large formations for the formal dismissal, heard a few speeches lauding their performance and thanking them for their service, and then were formally and finally dismissed. Then the searching, the hugging and the kissing began.
After a year of worrying, yearning and hardship for their families and ten months on the front line for the troops, yesterday’s homecoming was a happy event, but not without its touches of real world disappointment.
The National Guard Commander Major General Gregory J. Vadnais verbally expressed dismay that those troops that remain in uniform will face the prospect of furlough days because of the sequester, and those that return to civilian life may face a tough job market unless they already have old jobs waiting. But he vowed to help them not only find jobs, but careers. For some members of the unit, it had been their second deployment overseas. The unit has also seen service in Iraq.
While the battalion is based in Kalamazoo, its troops come from all over the state, and some had a long but happy drive home.