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Welcome home: Ohio National Guard soldiers return following nearly year deployed overseas

Chaplain Joe French, of Toledo, is welcomed home (Fred Squillante/Columbus Dispatch/TNS)

Everly Dannemiller, all snuggled in a patriotic fleece blanket and with a tiny camouflage bow holding back her wisps of hair, didn’t really know what to make of the music played by the military band or the tears and smiles and laughs that Mom and Dad rained down on her all at once.

She’s just under 4 months old, so forgive her. But the sign affixed to the front of her stroller said it all: “I’ve waited my whole life to meet my Dada.”

Dada is Army Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Dannemiller, who was one who returned home Tuesday afternoon from an 11-month overseas deployment in support of missions across Southwest Asia and the Middle East.

Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Dannemiller, of Grove City, and his wife, Kristin. (Fred Squillante/Columbus Dispatch/TNS)

Hundreds of friends and relatives gathered in an outdoors, COVID-safe environment at the sports complex Fortress Obetz to see their loved ones in person for the first time in almost a year and welcome them home.

Even though he felt fortunate to watch Everly’s birth over FaceTime on Jan. 23, Dannemiller admitted the plane ride home and the bus trip to the stadium stirred a few butterflies in his stomach.

“I was a little nervous,” the soldier from Grove City said after the brief welcome home ceremony full of speeches from dignitaries had concluded and he finally got to cuddle Everly and hug his wife, Kristin. “It’s a great day.”

Everly Dannemiller, who is less than 4 months old, was at Fortress Obetz Tuesday to welcome her dad, Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Dannemiller. (Fred Squillante/Columbus Dispatch/TNS)

Col. Andrew Stone, commander of the brigade known as the Iron Castle, told his soldiers that he realized the impact of what he did last June when he stood on a stage and commanded these troops into federal service in the middle of a pandemic that had already upended life in every way.

“Your nation asked you to leave your family, your friends, your civilian employers in the midst of a global pandemic the world hadn’t seen in a hundred years and lace up your boots, strap on your rucksack, grab your rifle, and travel 7,000 miles to face our enemies,” he told them.

But they responded. He spoke of the engineering work they performed, the demining, the construction and survey and design work that was critical to the U.S. Central Command’s missions of Operation Spartan Shield, Operation Inherent Resolve and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

Ohio National Guard soldiers from the Columbus-based Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 16th Engineer Brigade. (Fred Squillante/Columbus Dispatch/TNS)

“Rather than telework in your sweatpants, you instead brought the fight to the enemy’s doorstep,” Stone said. “You maintained stability in an inherently unstable part of the world.”

As with any deployment, it wasn’t easy for those left behind at home, either.

Among the sea of “welcome home” signs, waving flags and fluttering star-shaped and flag-adorned balloons, 9-year-old Addi Ratliff sat in the stands gripping a pot of yellow daises on her lap. Her homemade sign said simply “I love you.” Addi and her sister, 6-year-old Harper, were waiting to welcome home their mother, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Deena Ratliff.

Matt Ratliff, who is Army Active Guard and Reserve, said this was his wife’s first deployment. He said he and the kids were able to FaceTime with her a few times each week, but, of course, nothing was the same at the Dublin family’s home with his wife gone.

“We all missed her … and we’re just happy to have her home,” he said.

Stone, who finally got to embrace his wife and kids and a slew of other friends and relatives on the stadium’s field after the ceremony, said — after posing for plenty of pictures — that the families and the civilian employers of the Guard soldiers really deserve all the credit for weathering the pandemic without their loved ones.

“I had it easy. Deployed, I can order you to wear a mask,” said Stone, of Nelsonville. “And back here at home we had people fighting over them with Walmart greeters.”

Read more about Gen. John C. Harris Jr.: “I don’t tell the Army guys that I twirled in high school.”

In his address to the soldiers, Maj. Gen. John C. Harris Jr., Ohio’s adjutant general summed up the feeling of the day.

“Thank you, men and women,” he said, “for being willing to put yourself in the sand in defense of this nation.”


(c) 2021 The Columbus Dispatch

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