1140th Engineer Battalion coming home from Iraq

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The members of the Missouri Army National Guard 1140th Engineer Battalion and their families are looking forward to a happy homecoming after being apart for more than a year.

The 500-member force under the command of Lt. Col. John Akers was deployed to Iraq last February after a one-month stay at Fort Riley, Kan.

Their homecoming is set to occur sometime around March 1, but details haven't yet come down from the National Guard for security reasons, said John Miller, who works at the 1140th's Family Assistance Center and serves as a spokesman for the group locally.

"We've had a lot of people ask us," Miller said. "They're not telling us, but it's going to be in the near future."

An official announcement will come just before the group is scheduled to return, possibly the day of the homecoming, said Sheila Gross of Gordonville, leader of the Headquarters Family Readiness Group, which helps family members cope while their loved ones are deployed.

Gross said her group is going to line the route the 1140th arrives in Cape Girardeau on with ribbons and flags in a show of support for the soldiers. The exact route hasn't been determined, but it will stretch from Interstate 55 to the armory in Cape Girardeau with about 100 ribbons and large numbers of flags and banners. The decorations will be put up by members of the Family Readiness Group.

"We just want to let them know how much we appreciate what they did," Gross said. "Everybody's so excited for them to be coming home that they want to do anything they can to let them know how much they appreciate them."

Gordonville will also be lined with ribbons in honor of Gross' son, Spc. Doug Gross. "It has been too long since I've seen my son," Gross said. "I just can't wait for a hug. My boys have always been huggers."

Gross said she hopes people in the community will come out and line the route the soldiers will come in on in a show of support.

Diane Kohm of Perryville heads the Family Readiness Group for Company B. She said her group is planning an escort of police and firetrucks when Company B enters Perryville. The 1140th has companies based in Cape Girardeau, Farmington, Perryville and Sikeston.

No casualties

The 1140th has been lucky in its time in the Middle East, Kohm said.

"The year has went relatively good," she said. "And to have that many over there and to have as few incidents -- you know we've had no casualties -- we're very, very lucky."

She's looking forward to having life get back to normal with her husband, Sgt. Paul Kohm. "It's going to be great having him back home again, but you know we have to blend this life back together. He's not used to putting up with me and three kids, and we're not used to cooking."

Barbara Randolph said prayer has been a huge help for many of the families. She leads prayer meetings at Mount Auburn Christian Church, where some families of soldiers attend. She's thanking God for the chance to have her son, Robert, back home.

"We've been praying since they left that they would all come home safely, and it looks like our prayers have been answered," Randolph said.

It's been a long, tough year for those left behind, and their courage -- especially that of the women whose husbands have been gone -- is amazing, said Gross.

"These women who have spouses in Iraq have to be the bravest women I have met in my life," she said. "One in particular has a full-time job, three children and she has a farm that she's running also. She amazes me with her strength.

"The guys are our heroes, but these wives and husbands who stay at home and take care of things, they're heroes also."

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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