Thousands cheer troops in Colo. Springs parade |

Thousands cheer troops in Colo. Springs parade

Associated Press Writer

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) – Thousands of cheering, flag-waving people crowded onto sidewalks Saturday to welcome military personnel back from Iraq and thank them for their service there and in Afghanistan.

An hourlong procession of soldiers from nearby Fort Carson and airmen from some of Colorado Springs’ four Air Force installations tramped through downtown, many chanting marching cadences. Interspersed among the units were military vehicles, fire trucks and bands – one playing “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.”

Seven gleaming white police motorcycles led the “Red, White and Brave Welcome Home Parade,” and a lone streetsweeper brought up the rear. Vintage fighter planes roared overhead.

Crowds whistled and waved for each entry, but the cheers and applause rose to a crescendo each time a phalanx of soldiers or airmen marched by.

“It was awesome,” said Army Sgt. Kory Stachowski of Holland, Mich., after finishing the route. “A lot of people out there supporting us.” Stachowski is assigned to the 1st Brigade Combat Team at Fort Carson.

“It was a really good feeling,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. David Gant of Bricktown, N.J., assigned to Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. “I saw a couple protesters, but that’s their right.”

No official crowd estimate was immediately available, but a similar parade five years ago brought out about 60,000, police said at the time. With Fort Carson, Peterson Air Force Base, the Air Force Academy, Schriever Air Force Base and Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colorado Springs has long been loyal to its military personnel.

Fort Carson’s 4th Brigade Combat Team is currently deployed in Afghanistan. Some of the soldiers marching in Saturday’s parade said they were with the 1st Brigade Combat Team and had returned from Iraq in March. Both brigades are part of the 4th Infantry Division.

“This is wonderful,” Nancy Murray of Colorado Springs said from her sidewalk vantage point. “It’s great to see the community support the troops. We need to see more of this.”

Ray Sanderfer, a Navy veteran living in Colorado Springs, walked briskly through the soldiers and airmen as they waited for the parade to start, shaking one hand after another and saying, “Thank you. Thank you.”

“The sacrifices these guys make is far beyond anything we do in everyday life,” Sanderfer said.

Fort Carson has paid a heavy price since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began, with at least 274 combat deaths in the two countries combined.

Just Friday, the military said Pfc. Matthew E. Wildes of Fort Carson’s 4th Brigade Combat Team had been killed in Afghanistan. The 18-year-old from Hammond, La., was killed by an improvised bomb.

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