Honoring heroes of war
SHELDON, Iowa -- Nearly four months after citizen soldiers of the 2168th Transportation Company were welcomed home to Sheldon in grand fashion, a Freedom Salute was conducted in their honor Sunday morning.
The men and women of the National Guard unit gathered -- with their families at their sides -- in what Maj. Chuck Connors called one of the largest Army recognition endeavors in history. The event took place in the Sheldon High School gymnasium, not too far from the stadium where a troop send-off was conducted in August 2004, and where the troops were welcomed home last October after completing a tour of duty in Kuwait and Iraq.
The Freedom Salute gave military leaders an opportunity to publicly acknowledge the efforts of the soldiers and reward them and their family members for the work they did. It also allowed the public to once again show support and gratitude for their hometown heroes.
Sunday's ceremony offered a moment of silence to pay tribute to two of the unit's fallen comrades, Staff Sgt. Bruce Pollema and Spc. Dustin Colby, and included words of thanks by Pollema's father.
"Bruce would give you a thumbs up and say, "Way to go guys," Wilmer Pollema said. Pollema and Colby were killed when their vehicle went into a ditch and rolled just outside of Camp Dodge, Iowa, in August 2004.
Purple Hearts and Combat Action Badges were presented to three of the unit's 80 soldiers. Staff Sgt. Cory Dykstra, of Sibley, Sgt. Christopher Karalius, of Ankeny, and Spc. Joshua Masters, of Primghar, were injured on May 26, 2005.
Masters was a gunner and Dykstra a passenger in a Humvee used as a traffic control point to protect the convoy when an improvised explosive device (IED) or roadside bomb detonated. Shrapnel struck Masters in the leg, hip and side, while Dykstra received a laceration to his face by flying debris.
Their unit's Combat Life Saver (CLS), Christopher Karalius, responded to the two men, as well as their more seriously injured driver, an Iowa National Guardsman from Cedar Rapids. As Karalius was tending to their wounds, a second IED detonated some distance away.
While Karalius' armor protected him from visible wounds, the sound from the blast left him deaf in one ear.
Brigadier General Jodi Tymeson had the honor of pinning the Purple heart to the desert fatigues worn by each of the men. Tymeson also served as the ceremony's guest speaker.
She thanked all of the men and women of the 2168th for their dedicated service to their country, starting off her speech with a quote by former President John F. Kennedy, "And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."
Turning to the community who showed up in support of the troops, Tymeson said, "This group of soldiers asked what they could do for their country, and their country asked of them."
Tymeson thanked the soldiers for their professionalism and loyalty, and said they reached 99 percent to 100 percent operational readiness through the entire deployment.
"You stood for freedom when called and you stand for freedom today. What a gift you have given in support of freedom half-way around the world," she added.
All of the soldiers in the unit received an American flag in a triangle-shaped wooden display case adorned with the front and back of a commemorative coin. They also earned a certificate of the National Guard honor roll and a set of lapel pins -- a defender of freedom pin to be worn by the soldier, and a National Guard team honorary insignia, which the soldier can give to a person who stood by and supported them. Freedom rings and certificates were presented to soldiers who have been deployed more than once.
The children of the soldiers were presented with a future soldier footlocker kit, which included comic books, trading cards, a card game and a board game.
In special recognition, Millie DeBeer, family readiness coordinator for the 2168th Transportation Company, was presented a mosaic print as the recipient of the Distinguished Center of Influence award, and given a certificate of appreciation by the National Guard.