<b> FORT BENNING, Ga. </b> -- Soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division were among the honored guests at the annual fall festival in Duluth, Ga., Sept. 27-28.

Eighty-two "Panther" Soldiers traveled from Fort Benning to the festival to partake in various activities. including a parade, a concert, and several community sponsored events.

"The support during this festival was amazing," said Maj. Chris McKinney, the battalion's executive officer and Honorary Grand Marshal of the festival. "This community really lays out the red carpet for our Soldiers."

Many of the attending Soldiers also expressed their appreciation for the support of the community, not just during the festival but over the past five years.

"The history behind the relationship between the community of Duluth and the 2/69 Armor dates back to 2003 when we adopted the unit," explained Angie Doerlich, military chairperson for the festival.

Doerlich said the "adoption" took place though a former 2/69 Armor Soldier serving as an Army recruiter in Duluth.

Initially. Doerlich, who is a member of the Duluth First United Methodist Church, received the names of 31 unit Soldiers whose Families needed extra support during the unit's 2003 deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Since then the community has kept in constant contact with Soldiers and Family Members of the Panther battalion providing them with items such as canned goods and turkeys for Thanksgiving and bicycles and helmets during Christmas.

Duluth residents and supporters have also sent items to unit Soldiers serving overseas. Following their initial deployment to Iraq during 2003, Soldiers of the 2/69 Armor deployed back to Iraq in 2005 and 2007.

"Over 3,000 packages were sent by this community while 2/69 Armor was deployed," McKinney said. "I have never seen support at this level come out of any one community in my 13-year Army career. They are one of the most patriotic communities I have ever seen."

To show their appreciation, Soldiers of the 2/69 Armor gave over 15 Certificates of Appreciation to members of the community. They also gave various Panther memorabilia to the various donors and festival committee staff and volunteers.

"This means a lot to me and I plan to keep it going as long as possible," Doerlich said. "The 2/69 Armor is like my extended Family."

Doerlich and other supporters are currently supporting many military units and have created a Web site, providing information about their cause.

To find out how you can support today's military go to www.hugsforsoldiers.org. You can also contact Doerlich by calling 404-316-8183 or by emailing her at ANDoerlich@aol.com.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16