Legion makes sure vets get welcome from Iraq

By Lynn R. Parks

When Army veteran Joe Tune returned home from Vietnam, there was no celebration. "I had to hitchhike from Wilmington to my home in Seaford," he said. "In Vietnam, you went over as an individual and came home as an individual. We didn't come home as a unit." In contrast, the 63 men and women of the Army National Guard's 280th Signal Battalion, all of whom returned Wednesday to Delaware from the Middle East, were greeted by more than 1,400 yelling, singing and clapping fans. Among those fans was Tune, commander of the American Legion post in Seaford. "They are getting the support that the Vietnam vets did not get," Tune said. The 90-minute welcome-home ceremony for the unit, which is based in Seaford, was held in the ballroom at the Dover Downs Hotel and Conference Center. A bagpipe and drum corps played the National Anthem and the Army Hymn and guest speakers, including Gov. Ruth Ann Minner and Maj. Gen. Frank Vavala, adjutant general of the Delaware National Guard, sang the soldiers' praises. "I join a grateful nation in thanking them for their exemplary and selfless service," said Vavala. "You all served our nation with pride and honor. You answered the call to service willingly and without hesitation, in the proud tradition of the Delaware National Guard," he added. Vavala said that during their 10-month deployment, the guardsmen received 55 medals, including 15 Bronze Stars. "That is unprecedented in any Delaware National Guard deployment," he said. "What an amazing achievement." Vavala also praised the families of the guardsmen. "You served nobly in every sense of the word," he said. "Never for a second did you forget or allow the rest of us to forget your loved one's service."

The unit was deployed April 5, 2005. After a few weeks spent at Fort Dix, N.J., its members were sent to bases near Baghdad. The guardsmen traveled around the area, setting up communications systems, military as well as civilian. "This was a hostile war zone," said William Scott, commander of the 160th Signal Brigade, of which the battalion is part. Scott said that the unit was originally supposed to come home around Thanksgiving. After it was asked to remain, "I never heard one soldier complain," he said. "Your work was absolutely essential to the brigade's success." Among the returning soldiers was Marlowe Pinkett of Seaford. At the Dover Downs Hotel to greet him were his fiancé, Paula Copes of Millsboro, his daughter, Martina Pinkett, and his grandson Dean Pinkett, 2. "It's good to be home," Pinkett said. Mia Copes of Felton attended the celebration to welcome home her brother, Rodney Copes, Bear. Also there to greet Copes was his 6-month-old daughter, Kaia Copes. "I am still in awe that he is really home," said Mia Copes. The family planned to gather on Sunday, to celebrate Rodney Copes return and to enjoy the holidays that he missed. "We are going to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve, all in one day," Mia Copes said. "We still have our Christmas tree up, and all the presents are still there." Members of the Army National Guard's 280th Signal Battalion, based in Seaford, include:
1st Lt. Brian Nichols - Seaford
1st Sgt. Henry Fields - Bridgeville
Spec. 1st Class Marlowe Pinkett - Seaford
Staff Sgt. Robert Sheats - Bridgeville
Sgt. James Pitts - Seaford
Sgt. Elvaray Reid - Greenwood
Spec. 1st Class Jeffrey Hicklin - Seaford
Spec. 1st Class Douglas Neal - Bridgeville
Spec. 1st Class Andwar Martin - Seaford
Spec. 1st Class Kim Short - Seaford
Sgt. Haywood Murray - Bridgeville
Spec. 1st Class Brooks Lyons - Bridgeville

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