Gov., AG to greet 200th

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 16, 2006

When 1st Lt. Steven Witherington was in Iraq with the Linden-based 200th Engineering Battalion, his wife Shannon gave up watching the news … completely.

“FoxNews was always on TV at our house before Steven left,” Shannon said Friday. “But after he left, I just didn’t watch the news anymore. I even quit listening to the radio. The media is bad about saying something like ‘two U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq today’ and then moving on to something else in Meridian or somewhere.

And you just have to sit and wonder, was that my American soldier that was killed today?”

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One day in late August, Shannon said, she was talking to Steven, who was calling from a tent in Camp Victory near Baghdad, where the 200th administered the Mine and Explosives Information Operations Coordination Center.

“I had looked outside, and I told him “wow, the weather’s getting really bad here,” she remembered.

“And he said, ‘you have a hurricane headed right at the Gulf Coast.”

It was Hurricane Katrina, the storm of the century and, Shannon said, “I didn’t even know it was coming. ”

Lt. Witherington – a 12-year career soldier and Demopolis native – and the rest of the 200th battalion get a hero’s welcome when they get to Linden Monday morning, though.

Gov. Bob Riley and Attorney General Troy King both plan to attend Monday’s homecoming celebration at Fort Hill McManus Boggs Armory on East Coat Avenue in Linden, 1st Lt. Christopher S. Peterson said.

A bus loaded with anxious, homesick Guardsmen will arrive in Linden just before the 11 a.m.

The unit officially returned to American soil last Sunday, but they had to stay a week at Camp Shelby in Mississippi to return equipment and perform final duties before being dismissed.

After the homecoming Monday, Peterson, the unit’s Administrative Officer, said, they’ll get between 15 and 30 days of leave after the long deployment far from home.

Shannon said her first meeting with Steven was “so awesome I can’t even describe it.”

“But the biggest excitement was for my kids, to get to see Daddy again,” she said. “My little girl nearly jumped out of my arms, squealing and crying for Daddy to be home. Being apart for a year was hard on all of us.”