June 15, 2005
By Sgt. John Slosser
The Virginia Army National Guard honored the Soldiers, families and communities of 276th Engineer Battalion with a series of “Freedom Salute” ceremonies on Jun. 11 and 12. The Freedom Salute Campaign is one of the largest Army National Guard recognition endeavors in history. It is designed to publicly acknowledge Army National Guard Soldiers as well as the spouses, families and friends on the home front who’ve supported the troops during their recent deployments.
Crowds of Soldiers and supporters gathered at or near the armories of the 276th across the state.
The Soldiers, serving their first drill weekend since their return to the United States after over a year in Iraq, were presented with a myriad of gifts and awards ranging from medals and certificates, to commemorative coins and United States flags cased in wooden frames and adorned with plaques.
“It shows how loyal [the people] are to Soldiers by showing respect to them and what they do,” said Spc. Robert McCormick, a combat engineer from Powhatan. ”I think everyone in here deserves this. We are one big family.”
Awards and applause went out to everyone from Purple Heart recipients to the schools, companies and corporations that helped fund and organize support to the deployed troops.
“You can’t really understand the complete support of the family and community to a Guard unit, until that Guard unit deploys,” said Capt. Chris Doss, while at the Richmond ceremony.
The men and women of the 276th also received a medal with instructions to give it to the individual who supported them most. Within minutes, spouses and parents and children were sporting their very own award as the troops handed out their thanks. One engineer happily bestowed the medal on his unsuspecting wife while she wasn’t looking.
“She did so many amazing things that I would just never think of. If it wasn’t for her, we might still be in debt,” McCormick said.
His wife, Jamie, replied with a laugh.
“I told him it was his and that he deserved it. If he hadn’t snuck up on me to give it to me I might have run,” she said.
Local organizations also served as major contributors to the actual ceremony. Support ranged from VFW’s providing meals, to a mayor volunteering his services as master of ceremony for the occasion.
Even children received a gift as they followed their families through the procession of thanks and awards. Each child received a “Future Soldier Foot Locker Kit” complete with toys, comics and assorted games.
“I think today is more of a thanks to families than to [the Soldiers]. We signed up for this, we took an oath, but it’s not always the case with the family that comes along with the Soldier,” said Doss.
“This ceremony is a final recognition that the commonwealth and country can extend to the Soldiers together as one unit because after this many of us could start to spread out or go on our separate ways.”
As the Soldiers and families filed out of the auditoriums the message of the Freedom Salute was evident not only in the armfuls of awards but the atmosphere of praise.
“The Soldiers see how their community cares about them,” said Sgt. 1st Class John Wobbleton, a family assistance coordinator that worked closely with the 276th. “It also gives so many people, including the troops, a chance to say thanks. Many wanted to, they just didn’t know how they could until now.”