March 9, 2005
By Capt. Lesley Kipling
Ashley Krotzer wore a special t-shirt to show her love and support of her brother Jason. In bright red and blue puffy paint, it read “Proud Sister of an American Soldier.”
Spc. Jason Krotzer, 22, and the rest of the 3647thMaintenance Company, based out of Blackstone, returned home on Mar. 4 after a year-long deployment to Iraq. At their welcome home ceremony on Mar. 5, the gym at Ft. Pickett was filled with proud family members, proud friends and proud Soldiers.
More than 370 people attended the welcome home ceremony, as well as all 175 Soldiers who deployed with the unit in March 2004. The unit suffered no casualties.
In Iraq, the 3647th had a wide variety of missions to include wheeled vehicle maintenance, repair parts support, generator and air conditioner repair, food service support, and installing up-armor plates onto vehicles.
“We could go anywhere, do anything, build anything,” said 1st Sgt. Timothy White.
Because National Guard Soldiers bring their civilian job skills as well as their military training to the battlefield, the talent they have is immeasurable, said White.
In an effort to support the combat units, Soldiers from the 3647th would go to various base camps to install add-on armor kits to vehicles. This limited the amount of time the combat units were away from their mission.
Sgt. Kenneth Morris and Staff Sgt. Sexton Wayne were two of the Soldiers installing ballistic glass and up-armor on the vehicles. They recalled completing a vehicle in the 2nd Armored Calvary Regiment and the very next day the vehicle was attacked with small arms fire. Thanks to the newly installed up-armor, no American Soldiers were injured. The Calvary Soldiers came back to thank the 3647th.
The unit was recovered over 290 vehicles that had broken down on Iraq’s dangerous roads and highways.
“The Soldiers performance was exceptional,” said Capt. Everton Nevers, the company commander.
Nevers gave the community and unit’s Family Readiness Group credit for keeping the unit’s spirits up.
“It was tremendous, the outpouring of the community, that continued to motivate the Soldiers,” Nevers said.
While he remained focused on the mission in Iraq, it was hard for him to be away from his two sons Eric, 14, and Michael,12. He felt his wife did an excellent job taking care of their sons while he was gone.
“I’m as proud of her as I am of the unit,” Nevers said.
Yowanda Brown, the unit’s Family Readiness Group leader, worked hard to provide support to the family members of the 3647th. She wanted to ensure that the “family is actively aware of the contributions the Soldiers are making to their country.” She organized bake sales, raffles and a yard sale to raise money in order to send a stocking filled will treats to each soldier for Christmas. Brown also ran monthly meetings and holiday events for family members.
Sgt. Greg Carson, was grateful to Brown and others in the community.
“I can’t believe the support my wife got while I was gone,” Carson said.
His wife Jamie was hospitalized several times and gave birth to their second child, Abigail, while he was in Iraq. Jamie’s parents live nearby but it was still difficult having her husband gone.
“You don’t realize how much they contribute until they’re not there,” she said.
FRGs are critical to unit moral, according to Maj. Gen. Claude Williams, the Virginia National Guard Adjutant General. Soldiers need to know their families are being take care of.
“One of the things we expect of the Soldiers is that they concentrate on their mission,” Williams said. “We’ll take care of things back home.”
Williams also credits the “strong leadership” within the 3647th for the unit’s success.
“We’re extremely proud of them,” Williams said. “They set a wonderful example for the rest of our Soldiers.”
Williams spoke to the Soldiers and family members at the ceremony.
Thomas Wright, Virginia State Delegate, also addressed the group.
“Neither words nor deeds could fully convey our appreciation for the extraordinary sacrifices you have made,” Wright said.
Wright tried to send cards or letters to all of the Soldiers to let them know that their communities supported them.
“We’re all just so thankful that the 3647th did not have any casualties,” said Wright.
Following the ceremony the Soldiers loaded into the back of military vehicles and drove down Main Street, Blackstone. Dozens of other local residents bundled up and headed outside at 9 a.m., into wind and rain, to wave and cheer for the Soldiers passing by.
Betty Rodgers, didn’t know any of the Soldiers, but felt it was important for her grandson Tyler, 7, to attend the parade.
“I think it’s good for him to know what these guys and women have done for him, and to know what it is to defend this country,” said Rodgers.
Evert Amos, also a Blackstone resident, supported the unit throughout their deployment. He played the piano at a fundraiser last fall to support Virginia Guard Soldiers who were deployed. He and his wife, Judy, also performed in a hand bell concert for the family and friends of deployed Soldiers.
“We are all happy they are home,” Amos said.
Kathy Lewis, recalls hearing the announcement that the unit’s plane had landed at Langley Air Force Base.
“The weight of the world lifted off my shoulders.” Lewis said.
Her husband Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Lewis supervised Soldiers who repaired generators and air conditioners. During the hot summer months he would work more than ten hours a day. He is looking forward to relaxing over the next few weeks.
Twelve-year-old, Katelyn Bagley was also overwhelmed with emotion when her father Sgt. 1st Class Chuck Bagley got off the airplane.
“I cried and cried and cried,” Katelyn said. “It was hard having him away because I love him so much.”
Bagley plans to spend the next few weeks getting re-acquainted with his family and catching up on all that he’s missed while he’s away.
“She’s grown about a half a foot.” He said sizing up his daughter.
He said it was tough being away for so long, but that he concentrated on his mission in Iraq and took things day by day.
At the end of the day the First Sergeant called the unit to attention for a final formation. In a thunderous reply the Soldiers of the 3647th called out their unit motto:
“The best support the rest.”