By Sid Riley
To most of us the last twelve months have seemed to speed by at an unbelievable rate of speed, but this has not been the case for the brave men and women of the 144th Transportation Company who just returned to Jackson County after a year of deployment in Iraq. They have been separated from their loving families for twelve long, lonely months in an unfamiliar, hostile place. They have endured this pain and hardship in order to make our lives here at home safer.
On Thursday after an early morning flight from Camp Atterbury in Indiana the troops finally stepped onto Florida soil in Tallahassee. Then in a special motorcade their buses were escorted to Marianna for a final rendezvous with Marianna officials near Hopkins GMC, to prepare for their entry into the waiting arms of Marianna and Jackson County.
A brief snag was encountered at this point when officials suddenly were told the darkened windows of the troop buses were designed in a manner where they could not be lowered. Was all that the waiting crowd would see, would be dark windows as the troop came through town?
Marianna Fire Department came to the rescue. They rushed two of their shiny, huge fire trucks to the scene, loaded each truck with about thirty eager soldiers, and headed for downtown Marianna.
It was a very touching sight to see the estimated crowd of three thousand grateful citizens lining the streets, waving flags and signs, and cheering the proud, happy, uniformed soldiers sitting atop the giant fire trucks. The scene was deserving of a Norman Rockwell painting. This author felt a serge of emotion as the event took place.
Out at the Armory their families and officials eagerly awaited their arrival. Each soldier was given a gift basket which included a $100 money card which was paid for by the $10,000 which the Chamber raised in community donations for the homecoming.
The 144th stood before the stage on the Armory floor and listened as officials, commanders, and politicians expressed their appreciation and welcomed them home. Meanwhile, children, wives and husbands, moms and dads, and other family members waited impatiently for the ceremony to end so they could embrace their particular hero.
Finally the ceremony ended, the ranks were dismissed from formation, and the hugging, kissing, embracing, and crying of tears of joy filled the room. Again, it was a very emotional scene which touched the heart of all observers.
A food line waited to provide food to the troops and their families. Zaxby’s, Dino’s Pizza, Winn Dixie and Bistro Palms donated their time and the food for the occasion. Then the troops left the armory hand in hand with their loving families to get into their family vehicles and finally reach the HOME they had missed so much during the past year.
The coming weeks will be a period of readjustment as they return to private life and leave the rigidity of a military existence. We should all take every opportunity to help them through this period. Welcome home, Heroes of the 144th!!