BAMBERG, Germany - All eyes were on the skies as families and friends of the 173rd Special Troops Battalion gathered in Memorial Park at Warner Barracks for the Hearts Apart balloon release here Sept. 23.

Thirteen white balloons, representing the fallen heroes of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, were released during a moment of silence followed by 400 yellow balloons to honor the battalion's deployed Soldiers.

Sheltering their eyes from the late day sun, children stared up longingly, tracking their balloon adorned with a message to their mom or dad. Through the crowd one could hear occasional shouts of; "That's mine!" or "I can still see it!" or "Where do you think it will land'"

"In a child's heart anything is possible," says Debbie Milhorn, 173rd STB family readiness group advisor about the strength and meaning behind the first time event. "One of these balloons just might make it to Afghanistan and that belief can bring mom or dad closer to a child's heart, even momentarily."

Donna Shultz, an FRG member and spouse, thought of the balloon release idea while watching a memorial service on television and shared it with Milhorn. As details came together, they both realized how powerful this could be for their STB family and decided to make it the next event for the group.

Just now approaching the sixth month mark of a 15-month deployment, the balloon release is one of the many morale boosting events put together by 173rd STB family readiness group leaders.

"At the battalion level, we come together every two to three months, but at the company level, groups meet at least once a month," says Jessica Prudhomme, 173rd STB family readiness staff advisor. "We're 178 spouses strong here," she adds.

Milhorn is sincere when she refers to the 173rd STB as a family, and she believes that strength is in numbers. She says that opportunities for people to come together and support deployed servicemembers wouldn't be possible without the help of FRG leaders, volunteers and the rear detachment Soldiers. "Our Soldiers stand along side one another - and so do we. With courage and strength we will get through the rest of this deployment together."

Within minutes, the sea of yellow balloons flew higher, eventually fading from sight - their mission giving everyone a sense of hope, a moment to reflect and renewed strength to focus on the future.

(Amy L. Bugala is a member of the USAG Bamberg Public Affairs Office)

Page last updated Fri September 28th, 2007 at 08:57