Members of the 105th Military Police Return
By Associated Press
Niagara Falls, NY – There were joyful family reunions for the 120 National Guard troops who returned home after a year in Iraq Saturday, and a poignant reminder of two soldiers missing from the homecoming.
Kelly McMillin, widow of Sgt. Heath McMillin, was among the first to greet the soldiers of the 105th Military Police Co. who touched down at the Niagara Falls Air Base. Out on the tarmac, apart from the throngs who would see their loved ones again, she accepted carnations and hugs from her husband's comrades.
McMillin, 29, was killed July 27 when his vehicle was hit by explosives while on patrol south of Baghdad. Spc. Michael Williams, 46, was killed in a similar explosion in October. The unit suffered several other casualties as it escorted supply convoys through the war zone. Members earned a battery of medals for bravery.
The unit, comprising soldiers from across the state, was activated Feb. 14, 2003, about a year and a half after serving two weeks at ground zero in lower Manhattan.
"These men and women have seen both sides of this war," said Lt. Col. Paul Fanning, a National Guard spokesman. "I don't know anyone else who can say that."
The 105th came under enemy fire more than 60 times in Iraq, responded to dozens of military and civilian traffic accidents, coordinated the repair of three Iraqi schools and two medical clinics and established Iraq's first highway patrol station, according to the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs.
As three KC-135 tankers landed in Niagara Falls, a C-130 delivered about 20 eastern New York MPs to the Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia, 15 miles northwest of Albany.
"It's a relief," said Peggy Conroy when the plane carrying her husband, Sgt. 1st Class William Conroy, rolled to a stop in front of an American flag suspended between two fire engine ladders.
"He's inside there Tyler!" she said to her 9-year-old son, clutching a handful of yellow ribbons that adorned the trees on her Buffalo street.
First Lt. James Noreault and his 6-month-old son, Caleb, studied each others' faces after meeting for the first time since Caleb's birth. "It's overwhelming," said Jennifer Noreault as she watched her husband hold their baby.
James Noreault had read storybooks into a tape recorder for Caleb to listen to at bedtime and was clearly happy at the chance to deliver the stories in person at their Reading, Pa., home. "It's great," he smiled.
After collecting her gear, Spc. Mikki Perkins headed for the exit hand-in-hand with her 4-year-old daughter, Kiara, who has spent the last 14 months staying with Perkins' brother and sister-in-law. Behind them, troops posed for pictures with one another before hugging and heading their separate ways. Perkins was more than ready for those good-byes.
"That's way too long for everyone to be together," she said.
Peggy Conroy and her family were singled out for thanks by President Bush during his visit to Buffalo Tuesday for their work collecting school supplies for Iraqi children. But Saturday's was the bigger thrill.
"I'm more excited now, to tell you the truth," Conroy said at the homecoming. "That was great but this is the best."