Ottumwa hosts emotional homecoming for returning soldiers

833rd Engineer Co. soldiers homecoming in the Evans Middle School gym

The community welcomed nearly 100 soldiers from the 833rd Engineer Co. home at Evans Middle School Saturday afternoon after being stationed in Afghanistan for almost a year.

â??When you come to a homecoming, itâ??s important that the soldiers number one know that theyâ??re greatly appreciated for what they do and what they do to defend our country, but then also families because these soldiers canâ??t do what they do without the full support of their family and without the full support of the community, so itâ??s so important that we welcome them home properly,â?? Col. Greg Hapgood, Iowa Army National Guard said.

Spc. Luke Griffis from New London, Iowa just met his newborn son for the first time.

â??Itâ??s the best feeling ever,â?? Spc. Griffis said. â??Itâ??s been six weeks, the longest and hardest six weeks since heâ??s been born.â??

The 23-year-old found out his wife was pregnant right after he left for his first tour.

â??You never get tired of homecomings,â?? Col. Hapgood said. â??The feeling of pure joy at a homecoming, you wonâ??t see anywhere else, and it never gets old.â??

The 833rd Engineer Co. has been deployed three times since 2004, twice in Iraq and once in Afghanistan. Col. Hapgood says the unit had no serious casualties, and they brought everyone home safe.

â??We couldnâ??t be prouder of this unit, and we couldnâ??t be prouder of the City of Ottumwa and the surrounding communities that have supported this unit, these soldiers and their families for so many years,â?? he said.