Rock Hill will formally honor the Army National Guard’s 178th Combat Engineers, who recently returned from Afghanistan, in a ceremony Sunday morning at Winthrop Coliseum.
The event will honor some 161 soldiers who served overseas and returned home on May 31. Family, friends, and community leaders are expected to attend, along with some local politicians.
For some soldiers, the latest deployment was their second, third or even fourth, said Joe Medlin, the unit’s command sergeant major. “The professionalism and the dedication of the soldiers of 178th is unsurpassed.”
The battalion was responsible for clearing roadsides and areas of bombs and other hazards, Medlin said. Over the course of 47 missions, the 178th cleared more than 10,000 miles of roads.
The Rock Hill-based battalion represented just 161 of nearly a thousand soldiers from York, Chester and Lancaster counties who have been deployed to combat or placed on active duty since 9/11.
While on active duty, soldiers from the 178th also took part in border security projects, airport security and the aftermath of “Superstorm” Sandy in the Northeast.
Sunday’s “Freedom Salute” is not only to thank the soldiers for their service, Medlin said, but to also to thank the families of soldiers as well as community members for their support.
“The children who went without parents and the spouses who woke up as single parents – they certainly went through an enormous challenge,” he said.
Lt. Col. Corol B. Dobson, battalion commander of the 178th, said it can be very difficult for soldiers to transition back to civilian life. The military hosts monthly programs for returning servicemen and servicewomen to teach them how to access services, as well as skills and techniques for transitioning back into civilian routines.
“Things have changed, soldiers change, the families change,” said Dobson.
Ceremonial events like the “Freedom Salute” usually occur about three months after a unit has returned from active duty, he said, and hopefully the soldiers have begun to get settled back in at home.
Local community support throughout the ongoing war effort has been “overwhelming,” Dobson said, especially with care packages and letters from people and organizations he hadn’t even known about before his unit deployed.
“When you’re over there, you’re thinking about mission, mission, mission,” he said. “A letter means a lot.”
Anne Cash, family readiness group coordinator, said the salute is a formal way of “saying thank you and honoring them.”
The event is scheduled to include music from the South Pointe High School band.
Winthrop University’s Reserve Officer Training Corps will provide color guard services.
Soldiers will receive recognition as well as awards for service. Some leaders of the battalion will speak at the event.
Cash hopes that with military action “gearing down” in Afghanistan, there will be no more future deployments – but she knows the future is unclear.
“We still have soldiers deploying throughout the state,” she said. “We’re hoping we’re not going to have a deployment.”
The Winthrop Coliseum, 1162 Eden Terrace, Rock Hill, will open at 9 a.m. Sunday, with the program to start at 10 a.m.
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