Monday, 12 March 2004
173rd Welcome Home Ceremony
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CASERMA EDERLE, VICENZA, Italy – In what seemed like a never-ending line of desert camouflage uniforms and tan boots, the Soldiers of the 173rd Infantry Brigade (Airborne) filed onto a muddy football field Friday afternoon, formed ranks and faced the audience and visiting dignitaries. Crowds of family members, friends and co-workers jammed the bleachers and lined up along the running track, cheered and waved flags as each unit was announced.
The ceremony opened with brigade commander, Col. William Mayville, assisted by brigade Command Sgt. Maj. William Gunter, uncasing the brigade’s colors and attaching the newest battle streamer—representing the brigade’s participation in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
After opening remarks by U.S. Ambassador Mel Sembler, who congratulated the Soldiers for their efforts, U.S. Army Europe commander, Gen. B.B. Bell took the podium and he was followed by Southern European Task Force (Airborne) commander, Maj. Gen. Thomas Turner.
“Soldiers of the 173rd airborne brigade served with valor and distinction during Operation Iraqi Freedom. They made a lasting contribution to bringing stability to Kirkuk and surrounding areas. The 173rd Soldiers helped establish an independent civilian government, a new police force, and they restored basic services to the people of Kirkuk, improving their daily lives,” said Turner. “We will not forget our Soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq, nor will we forget the shared sacrifices of our Italian allies.
“Once the Soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade have completed an intensive reintegration process and taken some much needed leave, the Soldiers will go back to a normal routine surrounded by the outstanding support of the Vicenza community. We are grateful to Italian authorities and the people of Vicenza for their continued support of our Soldiers and their families,” he said.
At the conclusion of his speech, it was time for Turner, accompanied by Mayville and Bell to end the ceremony with a pass and review of the Soldiers.
As the troops marched off the field, the crowd moved over to a fest tent where the celebrations continued. There was something for everyone – from a ‘Kid’s Korner’ where clowns entertained and children could have their faces painted, paint pictures, jump rope and have fun—to concerts from Joan Jett and the Blackhearts for the rock-n-rollers to Italian group, Hill Billy Soul for the country-lovers to the U2 Tribute band, Elevation, to the Washington Redskins Cheerleaders—who everyone seemed to adore. In between the acts, comedians entertained, AFN’s Z-106 covered the events live for those stuck on duty or at home, and free food fed the famished.
Earlier in the day, Joan Jett was on hand in the post exchange, signing autographs on CDs, skateboards and other items fans brought, and then posed for photos. Jett is no stranger to military bases as she’s played concerts in more than 15 combat zones in the past few years.
“Shortly after 9-11, I was on the phone to a friend at the Pentagon,” said the raven-haired rocker during a backstage interview. “I said that I wanted to go to Afghanistan and perform for the troops, by mid-October I was over there. It was something I felt I had to do.”
Joan Jett of the 80’s rockgroup sensation, “Joan Jett and the Blackhearts,” sings while wearing a beret given to her by Col. Blair Ross, SETAF Chief of Staff, Vicenza, Italy. Jett and her group, the Blackhearts, played a packed fest tent during Welcome Home celebrations for the Soldiers of the 173d Infantry Brigade (Airborne) who recently returned from Iraq. Many of Jett’s USO-sponsored trips overseas to perform for the troops are deliberately kept low-key by the performer.
“It’s between me and the troops,” she said, brown eyes snapping. “Not me and the media. It’s an honor for me to be here. The troops deserve all the support they can get from us … it’s our freedom they’re fighting for!”
Several Sky Soldiers had the opportunity to go backstage and meet privately with Jett before her concert. Among them was Capt. David Gann, 501st Forward Support Company.
“I missed seeing her when she performed in Afghanistan,” said Gann. “I listened to cassettes of her so much I wore them out. I got her to sign a CD for me. It’s great that she’s over here to entertain the troops.”
Jett didn’t let her fans down as she sang and sweated through an hour and a half performance. Saving the best for last, she played her signature song, “I Love Rock ‘n Roll’ and bringing the crowd to their feet and singing along. A couple of songs later, “Crimson and Clover” found the crowd surging toward the stage, swaying to the beat. At the end of her set, SETAF Chief of Staff, Col. Blair Ross, presented Jett with a plaque. Not content with just a plaque, Jett requested—and received—an airborne beret. Before leaving the stage, she told the troops how honored she was to play for them and how proud she was of their service to their country.
As the festivities wound down, Turner took the stage and thanked all those who came out for supporting and honoring the Soldiers and family members.