Sgt. Jessica Lancaster, of Kentwood, Mich., smiles as she runs into an embrace with retired Sgt. Mark Drayton, of Owosso. (Jake May / AP)
OWOSSO, MICH. — Family and friends welcomed home 153 Michigan National Guard members with hugs and kisses at a ceremony Thursday morning in Owosso.
The soldiers are members of the 144th Military Police Company. The homecoming event was held at the Owosso High School gym. The unit members now go back to homes around the state after spending nine months in Afghanistan.
Capt. John Van Dusen of L’Anse in the western Upper Peninsula said his 3-year-old son James was “barely talking” when Van Dusen deployed. Now, the captain said James “talks all the time, so that’ll be a big adjustment.”
The unit’s duties in Afghanistan included base security, Afghan police mentoring and protection of generals, Pentagon officials and other visitors, MLive.com reported.
The soldiers learned about two weeks ago that they would be having their homecoming Thursday.
“It was a lot of sleepless nights after we found out,” said Spc. Jacob Dietzel of Saginaw. “A lot of anxiety. I’m just relieved to be home.”
Benjamin Larson, master of ceremonies at the ceremony, told families not to worry about restraining their children when the soldiers entered the room.
“If they make a mad dash for the gymnasium floor, you do not need to hurt yourself to try and stop them,” he said, smiling.