One mountain National Guard unit is back home after a nearly year-long deployment to Cuba. The community will have the chance soon to officially welcome them, and say thank you.
A ceremony will take place Saturday afternoon to show appreciation for their service in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Staff Sgt. Thomas Herman recently finished the 10-month deployment to Cuba, along with 150 other members of North Carolina’s 210th Military Police Co., based near Sylva in Jackson County. Most came home in October.
“This is the first time the whole unit has come back together as a whole,” Herman said.
Herman said from then to now provided a chance for soldiers to debrief with their families under the military's Yellow Ribbon program. But now, come Saturday, there will be a unified welcoming celebration, and a chance for the community to say thanks for their security and enforcement operations at Guantanamo Bay.
Herman said it was one of the better deployments.
“Living conditions were better than what you'd have in Afghanistan or Iraq,” he said.
He said there were some brief moments to enjoy the base beach.
“Every soldier does their thing to relax. Mine was snorkeling. Came across and saw this huge octopus. I was like, OK, I’m going to swim over here now," Herman said.
Herman said folks back home helped the deployed soldiers.
“The support of the mountains for the soldiers was just unbelievable,” he said. “We had some very strong family support.”
Mountain residents sent letters and care packages. Boxes also came from the Western North Carolina Veterans Council.
Briana Ford heads up Western Carolina University’s Military Student Services. Half a dozen students in that program are in the 210th.
“When they got back, we helped them get back into school and pick up where they left off," she said. "One of them is in criminal justice. I’ve got a couple in chemistry and philosophy."
Ford said, of the 150 soldiers in this unit, 30 to 40 are women and all are from all parts of the state.
All 150 soldiers in the unit are ready for a big welcome home ceremony.
“It’s wonderful to be back,” Herman said.
The ceremony is set for 3 p.m. Saturday at Smoky Mountain High School.