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Families were key to 200th’s Iraq mission

As Gov. Bob Riley, Alabama National Guard Adjutant General Craig Bowen and other dignitaries praised Linden’s 200th Engineering Battalion Monday for its service in Iraq, two tiny, brunette heads bobbed back and forth behind the two rows of guardsmen.

Charlie (pronounced “Carly”) and Clint Vickers paced and squirmed along the far wall of Fort Hill McManus Boggs Armory, their father Clint struggling to keep them corralled. Their mother – Sgt. 1st Ruby Vickers, who sat in front of them – hadn’t been dismissed yet, so she had to maintain a soldier’s composure.

But Charlie, 5, and Clint, 4, occasionally surrendered to the temptation of children who spent the last year missing mommy. They clutched tightly to Ruby’s back, laying their heads on her shoulder as she twisted her arm to return the inverted hug.

“It’s really nice being home,” Ruby said, after the unit had been dismissed for a well-earned month of leave-time. “We were blessed over there. It was a good mission and we met some good people. But the biggest blessing is coming home.”

When Lt. Col. Eddie Porter, the 200th’s commanding officer, spoke to the 40 soldiers and hundreds of family, friends and community members that packed the armory, he mentioned “combat multipliers.” During an operation, certain strategies, weaponry or equipment can boost a unit’s strength and efficiency beyond its actual numbers. But comfort and morale, Porter said, is a unit’s most vital force multiplier.

“We can never repay you,” Porter told the families the 200th left behind, “for the comfort you gave each of them while you were over there. You were our greatest combat multiplier.”

Ruby Vickers’ husband Grant said he, Charlie and Clint were “tickled to death” to have mommy back. The year had been tough on him, as he became mother and father while Ruby was away in Iraq.

“But I don’t regret a bit of it,” he said. “It’s time most dads never get to spend with their kids.”

Across the wide armory floor, few soldiers could formulate the words to describe their joy. Holding children in long hugs, stealing kisses from wives and girlfriends in quiet corners, little could be said except by the smiles on their faces.

“It’s amazing,” Staff Sgt. Anthony Mills said, his 18-month-old daughter Carrington clutched in his arms. “She’s amazing. When I left, she was just six months old. I’m amazed to see how she’s evolved into this energetic little girl.”

– david.goodwin@demopolistimes.com