Guard unit welcomed home
Fort Leavenworth Nineteen members of the Kansas National Guard left for Afghanistan this time last year. Eighteen made it home this past weekend.
The National Guard soldiers were parts of three different embedded training teams - one made up of 16 Kansans, the others part of a team from New York and one from New Jersey - responsible for training members of the Afghan Army in combat.
Capt. Timothy Burkett, of Leavenworth, was among the soldiers who returned home Saturday. They were honored Sunday at a ceremony at the 35th Infantry Division Headquarters in Leavenworth.
"We'd work with these guys, and we became an integral part of what they were doing," Burkett said. The teams lived with, slept with and ate with the Afghans they were training.
When he walked into the auditorium where the welcome home ceremony was to take place, Burkett found a large presentation tablet sitting near the top. His children had come in the previous day and drawn for him their own handmade poster. Along with crayon drawings of soldiers was the message "Welcome home Soldier."
Capt. Brian Komar said he was nervous to make the transition to being home, where the pace is slower and the day-to-day routine is "boring," he said.
Komar, a nurse from Clay Center, spent most of his time at the only medical clinic in Afghanistan that treated Afghan civilians as well as soldiers. In his year there, the clinic treated 14,000 local civilians.
Komar didn't tell his family when he'd be coming home, instead choosing to knock on his parents' door Saturday night.
"I surprised them," he said. "They were shocked to see me walk through the door."
As part of the ceremony, the members of "Team Kansas" received medals and commendations for their service. Eight soldiers received Bronze Stars, while the rest received various other awards.
In presenting the awards, Maj. Gen. Wayne Pierson commended the soldiers for their service and expressed his condolences for Master Sgt. Bernard Deghand, of Mayetta, who was killed in September.
"You have made the state of Kansas proud because you upheld the legacies of all the soldiers that went before you," Pierson said.
The soldiers erected a makeshift memorial among the flags that included Deghand's helmet, rifle and dog tags.
Several speakers Sunday also emphasized that any assistance the soldiers needed in transitioning back to civilian life would be made available.
"The ones that love you are so proud to have you back. Any support that you need, you have but to ask," Pierson said.