Local Guard unit honored for ‘miracle’

Published 10:08 pm Friday, August 21, 2009

During their August drill, members of the Alabama Army National Guard’s Demopolis-based 2101st Transportation Company had a group of grateful visitors from Louisiana.

About 10 members from Shreveport’s First Baptist Church came to Aliceville to thank the 47 unit members of Detachment 1 for their actions after a church bus accident on July 12 near Meridian, Miss.

The wreck involved 17 teenagers and six adults from the church.

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Members of Detachment 1 were traveling on a charter bus behind the church bus. They stopped to provide emergency first aid and other support to the accident victims.

Some unit members directed traffic while others began triage actions on injured persons.

It was soon discovered that two teenagers were still trapped under the bus. The Guard members surrounded three sides of the bus and lifted the 30-passenger bus enough for the youngsters to be freed.

Dr. Greg Hunt, senior pastor of First Baptist of Shreveport, led the delegation that came to Aliceville. John Odom, chairman of the board of deacons at First Baptist in Shreveport and a retired colonel in the military, joined Hunt in expressing appreciation of church members to the unit personnel.

“We came here because we just wanted to express our appreciation to some extraordinary people who did some extraordinary things,” Hunt said. “We believe it was truly a miracle that they were traveling on the same highway with our bus.

“They used their military experience and did their duty. We are grateful to them beyond words and will be their friends forever.”

Alabama State Rep. Alan Harper of Aliceville was present for the ceremony. He read a State of Alabama proclamation he had co-sponsored with State Sen. Phil Poole of Moundville during the recent special session.

Maj. Gen. Joe Harkey, commander of the 167th Theater Sustainment Command in Birmingham, took part in the program and presented Army Achievement Medals and other awards to unit members.

Sgt. Angela Oliver of Tuscaloosa is assigned as a truck driver in the Aliceville unit.

At the accident scene, she put skills of her civilian occupation to work. She works as a nurse and said it was “just instinctive that I started doing triage on the victims.”

Sgt. Greg Thomas of Reform was among a group of 2101st Guard members who visited First Baptist Church in Shreveport about three weeks after the accident.

“We got the see the kids up close and cleaned up,” he said. “That meant a lot to all of us.”

Thomas also said he and his fellow Guard members do not know how they picked up the bus.

“We never questioned it; we just knew it had to be done,” he said.

On Friday, Gov. Bob Riley will present Alabama Commendation Medals to the unit members in a ceremony at the state capitol.

The 2101st headquarters is in Demopolis with detachments in Aliceville and Butler. The units will mobilize in January 2010 to support Operation Iraqi Freedom.