By Kari Hawkins, USAG Redstone November 28, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Reserve Lt. Col. Thomas Howko drove 6 1/2 hours just so he could participate in a Welcome Home Warrior Citizen Award Ceremony held Nov. 19 at Redstone Arsenal.
"It was beautiful," he said. "We didn't want to pass up the opportunity. So, we bit the bullet and made the drive."
The Cincinnati resident and Corps of Engineers civilian was accompanied by his wife, Anna Dowell-Howko, and his son, 12-year-old Riley Dowell-Howko. All were honored during a ceremony that recognized the sacrifices of both Reserve Soldiers and their families.
"It was well worth coming here for this," Howko said. "And bringing my wife and son gave them a chance to experience this with me."
Howko returned in July from a one-year deployment as a logistics augmentee working with contractors to ensure basic life support was provided for Soldiers in Afghanistan. He and 10 other Reservists, all members of the Army Reserve Sustainment Command, were recognized during the ceremony. Nine others were listed in the program, but were unable to attend. The Reserve Soldiers have been deployed or mobilized with several different units as part of the Army Materiel Command's Army Reserve Element and, as individual augmentees, they did not participate in Welcome Home ceremonies with the units they supported.
"This is important that we recognize Soldiers and their families for the sacrifices they made," said Aviation and Missile Command commander Maj. Gen. Jim Rogers, the ceremony's guest speaker.
"These Soldiers have made sacrifices, but so have their families who sacrificed by having their loved one away. Being separated from your family really makes things difficult."
Before taking the command of AMCOM in the fall of 2010, Rogers himself was deployed, commanding the 1st Theater Sustainment Command at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. The major general served in operational assignments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, and Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom from 2008-10.
"The only reason we survived as an organization (during deployment) was because of the Reserve officers and non-commissioned officers that came to me on a regular rotation," he said. "They had an expertise that we could utilize" and that was developed not only through Reserve training but also in their full-time jobs as civilians.
"The importance of the Reserves to our Army right now has never been greater. … They often augment or fill an expertise that we don't have," Rogers said.
Besides recognizing families supporting the Reserve Soldiers, the ceremony also recognized the employers of citizen Soldiers and the volunteers who support Soldiers. Volunteers from AT&T Telephone Pioneers were thanked for providing refreshments for the ceremony.
"These Soldiers make a difference every day whether they are in uniform or not," Col. Jack Graham of AMC's Army Reserve Element said as he talked about the service of civilian Soldiers. "We can't ever pay you enough money for what you do. But it's not about the money. It's about the service when you raise your right hand" to take the oath.
Reserve Capt. Jack Eagly attended the ceremony with his wife and two young sons. He has served as a full-time Reservist twice since 9/11. In 2001, he was the executive officer for the first group of Soldiers to man the gates at Redstone Arsenal in the days following the 9/11 attacks. In 2003, he served in Iraq. When he is not in uniform, Eagly works for Northrop Grumman in support of the Missile Defense Agency.
"This has been a great day," Eagly said. "I'm glad I was able to share it with my wife and sons."
Sgt. 1st Class David Beier was recognized for a total of seven years of mobilization with the 59th Ordnance Brigade. That full-time assignment came to an end in September, when he was among a small group of Soldiers who turned the last of the brigade's facilities over to the Garrison to close out the move to Fort Lee, Va.
"This was really nice. I wasn't expecting this at all. I don't do what I do to get recognition like this," Beier said, referring to a shadow-box encasing a U.S. flag, coins and other gifts he received at the ceremony. "It will be nice to have these things later on to remember the glory days."
For most Reservists, the return from a deployment or mobilization means going back to the routine of life with family and friends, and with co-workers at their civilian job. But that's not the case for Beier, who gave up his job as a maintenance manager during the second year of his mobilization.
"It wasn't fair for me to hang on to that spot and keep someone else from getting that job," said Beier, who has 25 years of service between active and Reserve duty. "I am looking for something now and I've had interviews. I am unemployed. But I wouldn't change anything I've done. I'm proud to serve."