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Guard#039;s 216th unit coming home

Every day for more than a year, Sheila and Alan Tackett have proudly glanced at the towering maple tree in their front yard that serves as a constant reminder of their son.

Spec. Dale Tackett of the Ohio Army National Guard's 216th Engineer Battalion helped his mother hang a yellow ribbon on the tree at their Ironton-area home and put a flag in the window before he and the other soldiers of unit were deployed to Iraq last January.

Soon, that ribbon will come down as the soldiers of the 216th's Portsmouth-based Co. B and its subgroup Det. 1 from Ironton return sometime next week, most likely Feb. 11.

Shawnee State University plans to have a special ceremony tentatively set for 2 p.m. Friday.

Sheila Tackett plans to keep the tissues handy.

"I just can't wait to have him home and to know he is safe," she said of her 25-year-old son who joined the Guard after four years as a Marine. "The support the community has given has been outstanding. People would tell me that they have been keeping them in their prayers. … It is nice to know others out there are thinking of our soldiers."

Detachment 1, Company B consists of carpenters, plumbers, electricians and heavy equipment operators who are assisting in humanitarian efforts that include building bridges, roads, buildings and other support. The unit consists of 36 local soldiers who are based in Ironton. The soldiers of the 216th were extended slightly in their stay but it did not delay their homecoming.

"For you civilians, (our) mission was complete from our perspective at 10 am Feb. 1, 2005," Lt. Col. Scott Evans wrote in an e-mail.

"We still have a ceremony to make it official and some work ahead just to get ourselves out of here and through the demobilization station in Indiana, but hope to see everyone soon."

Jennifer Moore and others in the Family Readiness Group are working to prepare the welcome wagon.

"We want the citizens of Ironton to decorate and get their ribbons up," said Moore, who awaits the return of her husband Sgt. Kenny Moore. "We really want it to be awesome."

The family members also want businesses to get on board by donating items, gift cards or monetary gifts that can go in to their "Welcome Home Packs."

"We would really like to challenge business owners and the community to not only decorate but to help us in preparing the gift packs for the soldiers."

Anyone interested in donating can contact the Portsmouth Armory at (866) 270-8283 or Tackett at 532-3489.

The families of the soldiers could not be more proud of the unit that have earned more than 20 Bronze Star nominations, more than 15 Purple Heart medals for wounds received in action and numerous Army Commendation Medals.

Tackett can't wait to give her son a commendation of her own - a huge hug. As an added bonus, he will get to celebrate Christmas a little late.

"His stocking is still hanging," she said. "I left it hanging until he can come home."

For the families, the homecoming will be the best present of all.