Orlan Love, CR GAZETTE –
A 53-degree January afternoon allowed supporters of the 322nd Engineer Company to provide an especially warm welcome Tuesday afternoon for 60 Army Reserve soldiers just back from Afghanistan.
Hundreds lined Decorah’s main street at 4 p.m., cheering, waving flags and holding welcome signs as two charter buses brought the soldiers home.
“I saw signs saying, ‘Welcome home, Miles,’” said Spc. Miles Johanningmeier, 22, of Harpers Ferry. “It filled me with a lot of pride and joy.”
“It was a ‘meant to be’ deal,” said Dan Mielke, who was there with several other family members to welcome home his son, Spc. Josh Raatz of Cresco, 21.
In brief remarks in the auditorium of Decorah High School, Capt. Troy King, the 322nd’s company commander, said the best part of the deployment was that the unit’s many commendations, which included 14 bronze stars, did not include a single purple heart.
“We had to send home a couple of soldiers who were hurt in job site accidents, but no one got hurt in combat,” said King of Des Moines.
The unit, which arrived in Afghanistan in March, consists of about 70 soldiers who regularly drill in Decorah and about 90 others from 19 states who helped bring the company up to full strength before deployment. All but the Decorah soldiers had already returned home before the welcome ceremony, King said.
The soldiers, mostly carpenters, plumbers and electricians, built seven new bases, more than a dozen surveillance and operations centers and 30 miles of new road during their 10-month deployment.
“We appreciate everyone in the community who came down to greet us,” said Staff Sgt. Trever Falck of Decorah.
Falck said his top priority is relaxing and spending time with his wife and three children, starting with the belated opening of Christmas presents.