The Ottumwa Courier

Southeast Iowa

November 25, 2013

Welcome Home

OTTUMWA—The price for keeping America safe sometimes comes at the cost of missing loved ones, but the wait for families of the Iowa National Guard 833 Engineer Company is finally over.

Soldiers arrived home Saturday at approximately 3 p.m. to cheers and tears of joy at the Evans Middle School gymnasium in Ottumwa. Friends and families filled the gym to capacity, and many sported posters welcoming the soldiers back to Iowa.

“This is a huge day for the Iowa National Guard,” said Col. Greg Hapgood, Iowa National Guard public affairs officer. “Not only do we get these soldiers home from their third deployment and everyone is home safe, but they make it home before Thanksgiving and they are the last Iowa National Guard unit out of Afghanistan.”

The company has spent almost an entire year deployed for the third time. For their first two deployments overseas, they were in Iraq, but this time they were sent to aid troops in Afghanistan. Now that they are home, there are no more Iowa National Guard units stationed in the Middle East, but there are a few individuals who are still there and a unit was recently deployed to aid troops in Kosovo.

During their third tour in the Middle East, the company conducted more than 200 route clearance missions, cleared more than 12,000 kilometers of Afghan roads and sported an IED find and clear rate of over 75 percent. With their help, the Afghan soldiers were able to conduct 10 decisive operations, eliminate over 70 IEDs and discover numerous weapons caches in the Uruzgan province, which is in the very center of the country.

While family members for most of the soldiers came to meet them at the gymnasium on Saturday, one family sat at home with no idea their beloved soldier was back in Ottumwa.

Staff Sgt. Robert (R.J.) Mason Jr. and his wife, Alina, successfully kept his homecoming a secret from his two sons and two of her three daughters, which was no small feat considering how curious they are.

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