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Area troops home safe

Friends and family waited until late Thursday night for the 287th Transportation Company of Army Reservists to return home to the Livingston base from the conflict in Iraq. Two buses rolled up to the Army Reserve Center on Highway 11 to cheers and flag waving.

The soldiers had been away from home for 13 months. They were called to active duty on Feb. 20, 2003. Thankfully, no one had been killed in the reservists’ time away from Alabama.

“We started out in Kuwait,” said Sherry Roberts from Butler, “then we moved to Tikrit, Iraq (the hometown of Saddam Hussein). We drive heavy transport equipment. We haul tanks and everything the military has….Transportation is the most commanding thing they have. They have to get a lot of things transported.

“In the summertime it was extremely hot. (There is no air conditioning in the army trucks, she said.)…You drink a lot of water.

“…In winter time it would rain and then get hot – totally different than over here,” she said.

“It was very hot, very sandy, and very bug infested” said Sgt. Major Irv Knox of Tuscaloosa.

The reservists did feel in harm’s way a majority of the time. “We were always staying on the road where where could have run on the IAD’s (terrorists) set out,” Roberts said. “I just prayed to God that I would make it back.”

How was the communication with home? “At first when we started out we had no E-mail,” Knox said. “Mail trickled in, but after the last six months, we had internet cafes and mail averaged a three-week turnaround.”

“They had internet set up, day rooms for you to go to,” Roberts said.

The soldiers were not only concerned about IED’s (improvised explosive devices), but also RPG’s (rocket propelled grenades) and small-arms fire. “Every time we moved on the road we had to deal with it,” Knox said, “but we had escorts that did a pretty good job and kept us safe. God kept us safe – plus we kept ourselves safe.

“You definitely had to stay on guard. You could not get lackadaisical mode. You had to stay alert at all times.”

For the families at home, “it’s been very rough,” said family coordinator Darnelle Johnson. “We talked quite often. (The families met once a month.) I think most of the soldiers got a chance to talk to their families (while serving overseas).” The soldiers were able to use E-mail, phone or send letters.

“A lot of them couldn’t get to the computers because so many tried.” Letters and phone calls when they could really helped the family members.

There were no casualties from the 287th. She had dreaded having to go to a family and give them news of a soldier’s death.

There were no major financial issues for the families of the 287th. “Everything was taken care of pretty well while they were gone,” she said.

A homecoming picnic is planned for the soldiers and family April 24 in Livingston’s Jaycee Park.