The Ottumwa Courier

833rd Engineer Company

June 8, 2008

Back home

Southeast Iowa welcomes 833rd heroes

OTTUMWA — For the soldiers of the 833rd, the transition from military to civilian life came in a wave of happy chaos.

The recently returned 833rd Engineer Company stood at attention on Indian Hills Community College indoor basketball court Saturday afternoon. The bleachers around them were packed full with parents, wives, children and friends.

The company first sergeant brought the deployment to an end with one word: “Dismissed!”

A roar went up from the crowd. The bleachers spilled family members onto the floor while the soldiers flowed outward toward them.

Sgt. Shawn Force was pushing a baby carriage within moments.

“It’s great,” he said. “She wasn’t even born [when we deployed].”

Force was able to see his daughter briefly while on leave: She was a week old. She’s 5 months old now. None of the noise or cheering mattered to her; she was sleeping. His eyes welled up as he looked down at her.

“She’s a beauty,” he said quietly, his voice catching.

Ben Baker’s fan club was a bit older. At least 15 people wore T-shirts reading “Welcome home Ben.” They were relieved to be able to wear them.

“The worry’s gone,” said his mother, Michele Baker of Chariton. “He’s home safe and sound.”

Other families had shirts made up, too. One warned enemy combatants to “Beware of Tony.”

Yes, it’s a bit tongue in cheek, said Lisa Nordyke of Eldon, a relative of Spc. Tony Cloke. But it’s serious, too; the 833rd is dangerous to the bad guys.

And the “War Pigs,” as the 833rd is called, proved themselves formidable while in Iraq. They cleared more than 40,000 miles of roads over the course of 495 combat patrols. Twenty-one members earned bronze stars. Four received purple hearts.

It was hard to count the number of signs calling the soldiers heroes.

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