Entire Colo. Guard unit returns alive after year in Iraq | VailDaily.com

Entire Colo. Guard unit returns alive after year in Iraq

Tracee M. Herbaugh
Rocky Mountain News
Vail, CO Colorado
Tim Hussin/Rocky Mountain NewsMaj. Marc Patterson leads returning Green Berets as they stand at attention.

The homecoming of a Colorado National Guard unit was made even sweeter by a claim few could make after a year in Iraq.

“Our greatest accomplishment is that we brought every single soldier back alive. Other units cannot say the same, and we are saddened at the number of losses we witnessed when we were over there,” said Lt. Col. Kenneth Chavez, commander of the 5th Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group.

Soldiers celebrated Friday in an airplane hangar at Buckley Air Force Base adorned with American flags, “welcome home” signs, and red, white and blue banners.

The battalion also has members from Texas and California, but only the 170 from Colorado were on hand for the ceremony.

Members of the unit were deployed throughout Iraq and returned to Colorado last week in staggered groups.

The guardsmen marched into the hangar as the crowd sang the national anthem.

Chavez said he was humbled by the turnout of about 300 friends and family members.

Soldiers face transition

“It’s a big moment for the soldiers,” he said. “A welcome home is a significant event that signals they are truly home, and they can now start transitioning back to civilian life.”

Chavez noted the difficult transition some returning soldiers face and urged family members and friends to be supportive.

Sgt. Maj. John Lee, 42, responsible for recruiting in Colorado and a member of the National Guard for 23 years, said the battalion provided humanitarian assistance and carried out combat missions.

“The actions they had were full combat-related operations, like the soldiers that are being seen in Afghanistan and Iraq,” said Lee, who added he was unable to discuss specifics because the missions are classified. “It was every bit of what you’re seeing on the news and reading about.”

Trever Hanson spent eight months in Iraq.

“It was hot. And it’s good to be back,” said the 26-year-old from Lakewood.

Marriage plans

Hanson plans to marry fiancee Jenny Kidd, who attended the ceremony, on Sept. 20.

“It was really hard, but I had a lot of family support,” she said of Hanson’s time away. Kidd said she cried a lot when she saw him for the first time last Saturday, the day he arrived in Colorado.

“I couldn’t sleep the night before he came home,” she said. “It’s great to be here, but I almost cried at this ceremony, too.”

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