216th deserves thanks for big job well done

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 7, 2005

The final 216th soldier departed Iraqi soil when I boarded the aircraft at FOB Speicher, Tikrit, Iraq, today at 1203 hours local time (Feb 5, 2005).

So began an e-mail sent on Saturday by Lt. Col. Scott D. Evans, a Lawrence County native and commander of the 216th Engineering Battalion of the Ohio National Guard.

Evans and his troops left Iraq more than a year after leaving their Ohio homes. The group spent approximately 11 months of service in Iraq.

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The brave men and women of the 216th are on the minds of hundreds of local residents this week as the months of worry and concern quickly turn to anticipation of their arrival home.

Another e-mail from Evans relayed his personal feelings about the group's service.

"I am most proud of the great Americans that I came here with. This entire experience has been an amazing validation of the citizen-soldier concept envisioned by our founding fathers over 200 years ago. Who could have imagined that a battalion of part-time soldiers, mainly from southern Ohio, would have such a profound impact serving with the best of our nation's military half a world from home? The men and women of the 216th are true heroes who have earned my total respect."

Evans and the rest of the men and women of the 216th have earned our respect.

Regardless of whether or not you know any of the returning soldiers, you can help say "thank you" for their valiant service by helping organize a public appreciation.

Today at 2 p.m. in the Bowman Auditorium at Ohio University Southern in Ironton, a group of volunteers will meet to discuss plans for a welcome back ceremony for members of the 216th's Portsmouth-based Company B and its Ironton detachment. The public is invited.

For Evans and the men and women he leads and all of the families and friends they left behind when they headed off to serve, this week will be a special one, indeed.

Let's welcome them back with open arms and open hearts.

And when we see them again, when the hugging is over, let's offer a simple "thank you" for a job well done.