By By Lori Egan, The BayonetJanuary 8, 2010
FORT BENNING, Ga. - I'll Be Home for Christmas took on new meaning for Soldiers with the 690th Medical Company (Ground Ambulance). Returning from a yearlong deployment in Iraq, their arrival time changed 12 times before they landed at Lawson Army Airfield after 6 p.m. Dec. 25.
Waiting for the 63 Soldiers were families, friends and a flag that had welcomed home Soldiers of an Iowan family since World War I.
In the family department, six babies were born during the company's 3rd rotation to Southwest Asia. Aleiyah McKenzie, born 11 days after her dad's departure, and her brothers, Gary, 8, and Houston, 5, opened one Christmas present before coming to the airport, said their mom, Angelika. The rest of the gifts waited for dad, SPC Gary McKenzie.
"With him home, my home, my heart will be complete," she said.
SPC William Redmon's father drove the Soldier's car from Davenport, Iowa, arriving in Columbus Dec. 22. Waiting for his son, Butch Redmon spent time exploring Columbus and jogging on the Riverwalk.
"I didn't know what to expect, bringing Willie's car onto Fort Benning, and originally, he was coming in sooner," he said.
When the Redmon's dental hygienist learned of Willie's return, she sent a flag to be displayed - a welcome home banner that had been in her husband's family since WWI and was displayed when the family's Soldiers returned from subsequent wars, Redmon said.
When the formation marched into Freedom Hall, they wore Santa hats. Waiting to greet them was COL Bryan Owens, commandant of the Infantry School.
"Having been deployed in harm's way five times, I can sense danger," Owens said, "and standing here between you and your families, I am sensing danger now. Welcome home."
After the formation was released, CSM(R) Mike Marler, who deployed to Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division in 2003-2004, said the year his daughter SSG Serina Marler Blair spent there was harder for him.
"She's my daughter - she's a good NCO, I trust her skills. I knew she'd bring herself and her troops back. But (Iraq's) still dangerous, and she's my daughter," Marler said.