121 soldiers come home from Iraq<br>

A crowd of almost 200 friends and family members rejoice as three charter buses bring 121 Arizona Army National Guard soldiers from the Flagstaff/Camp Navajo-based 2220th Transportation Company to the Thorpe Road Armory in Flagstaff. Shortly after the buses rolled in at 6:20 p.m., the troops lined up to receive a welcome home speech and a key to the city of Flagstaff from City Councilperson Joe Haughey. The soldiers were then dismissed to dine on pizza and celebrate with family.

The company — who was ordered into active duty on Feb. 10, 2003 and is comprised of soldiers from 45 different communities around the state — arrived at the Flagstaff National Guard Armory in three charter buses, complete with police escort, at about 6:20 p.m. The soldiers were coming from their demobilization station at Fort Bliss, Texas.

“Today is no more than a reception for the families and the soldiers themselves just to get together,” said Army National Guard Master Sergeant Gabriel Almendarez, who helped coordinate the homecoming.

Sgt. Almendarez added that after the festivities, the soldiers would be released and would not be heading back to Bellemont.

Once the soldiers arrived, a huge crowd of family, friends and supporters rushed the doors of the armory’s main hall to get pictures and be the first to greet their loved ones. A formal ceremony was conducted welcoming the troops home with Flagstaff City Councilman Joe Haughey giving a short speech and presenting the company with a key to the city. The soldiers were then officially dismissed to dine on pizza and be reunited with family and friends.

“We’re really happy and proud to have them (soldiers) back here in Flagstaff,” said Haughey. “It makes us in Flagstaff proud — and northern Arizona really proud — to have a contribution to defending the freedoms in this country and bringing freedom to other people.”

Two of the returning soldiers were from the Williams area — Johnathan Clark and Sgt. First Class Barry Grumbine. Clark’s family had since moved to Parks and he now resides there while Grumbine, still in Williams, says he’s very happy to be back. He plans to spend as much time with family as possible with his 30-day leave and another 90 days before he has to report back to work at Camp Navajo.

Family members weren’t the only civilians to show up for the reception — some, such as Williams’ Theresa Konkel and her children, came out simply in support of those serving in Iraq and to greet and thank the few soldiers not meeting with family.

“We’re going to keep an eye out,” Konkel said, “and be the official huggers for them (soldiers without family).”

Konkel now waits for her husband, Sgt. Ray Konkel, who is with the 1404th Transportation Company. He is expected to arrive with other Arizona National Guard soldiers in one or two weeks.

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