The Utah National Guard's

 Triple Deuce Comes Home

 

Written by Maj. Hank McIntire

Published July 17, 2006

 

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A Cedar City Airport employee guides the aircraft carrying Soldiers of the 2-222nd Field Artillery returning to Utah June 21.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

A Cedar City Airport employee guides the aircraft carrying

Soldiers of the 2-222nd Field Artillery returning to Utah June 21.

CEDAR CITY, Utah — ‘Welcome home, Triple Deuce.’  — St. George Spectrum. ‘They’re home!’ — Richfield Reaper. ‘There’s no place like home.’ — Cedar City Daily News. ‘Welcome home, our hometown heroes.’ — Beaver Press.

These were the local newspaper headlines from the four cities home to the units of  Second Battalion, 222nd Field Artillery, Utah National Guard, who returned home to Utah after serving 18 months in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The 2-222nd, or Triple Deuce as the unit is known, was activated in January 2005. The unit left Utah for Camp Shelby, Miss., for several months of combat training before heading overseas. While at Camp Shelby the unit relocated temporarily to National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., for acclimation to a desert environment and to receive Iraq-specific training.

Families, friends and supporters of the Triple Deuce await the arrival of the aircraft at Cedar City Airport.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Families, friends and supporters of the Triple Deuce

await the arrival of the aircraft  at Cedar City Airport.

The battalion arrived in Iraq in June 2005 and was assigned to the 2-28th Brigade Combat Team of the Pennsylvania National Guard in support of the 2nd Marine Division in Ar Ramadi, Al Anbar Province, Iraq.

The Triple Deuce fulfilled three primary missions in Iraq: Conduct ammunition supply route security, defend forward-operating bases and provide artillery fires to disrupt insurgent operations. The 2-222nd was also involved in the recruiting and training of Iraqi police forces.

Service Battery and Charlie Battery returned to Utah June 17, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery arrived June 21 and Alpha and Charlie Batteries came home June 22. Charter aircraft brought Soldiers to Cedar City Municipal Airport and then continued on to Salt Lake City to drop off Triple Deuce Soldiers who lived in Northern Utah.

Capt. Chad Williams, Charlie Battery, 2-222nd, left, is welcomed home June 17 by Sgt. 1st Class Dan Gubler, center, and Cpl. Braxton McCoy.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Capt. Chad Williams, Charlie Battery, 2-222nd, left, is welcomed home June 17 by Sgt. 1st Class Dan Gubler, center, and Cpl. Braxton McCoy.

Hours prior to the arrivals of Soldiers’ planes, anxious wives, excited children, gushing mothers, and proud fathers joined friends and supportive citizens at the airport to prepare to render an appropriate welcome home. Well-wishers looked as though they came prepared for war themselves with their flags, banners, painted faces, sunscreen, picnic lunches, and even a few bag chairs.

Among the official greeters in Cedar City for the various arrivals were Utah Governor Jon Huntsman and his wife Mary Kaye; Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert and his wife Jeanette; Maj. Gen. Brian Tarbet, Utah National Guard adjutant general; Brig. Gen. Scott Harrison, deputy commander of Joint Forces Headquarters; Brig. Gen. Patrick Wilson, commander of I Corps Artillery; and Command Sgt. Maj. Dell Smith, State Sergeant Major.

First to welcome home deplaning Soldiers, however, were some of their own: Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Gubler and Cpl. Braxton McCoy, seriously wounded in separate IED (improvised explosive device) attacks in Iraq, and who both spent several months at Walter Reed Medical Center for medical treatment and rehabilitation. They only recently returned to Utah.

Erin Henrie, center, and Katrina Rhinehart, present a yellow rose to an arriving Solier of the 2-222nd at Cedar City June 22.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Erin Henrie, center, and Katrina Rhinehart, present a yellow rose

to an arriving Soldier of the 2-222nd at Cedar City June 22.

Soldiers gave hearty handshakes, embraces, and slaps on the back to Gubler and McCoy as they recognized their wounded comrades at the bottom of the aircraft stairs.

Gubler, who lost his left arm and is slated for surgery to repair damaged eyesight, was thrilled to see his fellow Soldiers for the first time in more than seven months.

“I’m elated. I can’t really express the joy I feel. I got yanked out [after being wounded] and didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, so it’s great to see them,” he said.

The receiving line comprised of Soldiers, elected and Guard officials also included Family Support team members handing out individual yellow roses to each arriving Soldier.

For the June 17 arrival families were asked to stay behind the yellow tape set up to separate the crowd from the tarmac until Soldiers exited the aircraft and were released from a final formation.

Children of a 2-222nd Soldier rush to meet him on the tarmac at Cedar City Airport June 21.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Children of a 2-222nd Soldier rush to meet him

 on the tarmac at Cedar City Airport June 21.

After the first several Soldiers waited for their colleagues to deplane, some spouses decided that they had waited long enough and trickled out onto the tarmac to reunite with their Soldiers. Soon it was apparent that no formation would be held and the crowd moved en masse to surround the plane, the receiving line and arriving Soldiers.

With each subsequent arrival, families became bolder and bolder until the day of the last arrival when families charged the plane and as soon as the airplane door opened and mobbed Soldiers when they reached the bottom of the stairs.

One reporter later asked why the planned post-arrival formations did not materialize.

“I guess the general realized that he doesn’t outrank wives and mothers,” one Guard official was heard to say.

Megan Curtis, center, greets her returning husband Spc. Derek Curtis, Charlie Battery, 2-222nd, June 17 at Cedar City Airport.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Megan Curtis, center, greets her returning husband Spc. Derek Curtis, Charlie Battery, 2-222nd, June 17 at Cedar City Airport.

No one who witnessed the mass reunions will forget the surge of emotion displayed and felt by all who were there. Governors and generals were choked up, flight attendants were in tears, reporters were left without words, children raced to hug their fathers, and wives, mothers, and fathers held tightly to their Soldiers, who unashamedly violated the ‘Soldiers don’t cry’ code.

One Guard wife who carried a young daughter in each arm to greet her Soldier was Megan Curtis.

“It’s unreal. I didn’t think this day would ever come,” she said shortly after the reunion. “I’m not letting him out of my sight.”

Megan’s husband, Spc. Derek Curtis of Charlie Battery, 2-222nd, an Ace Hardware employee and student at Southern Utah University, echoed her sentiments.

“It’s been a long time coming. It’s good to be home. It was a good experience. I wouldn’t change it, but I wouldn’t go back,” he said.

In addition to family and friends, others came simply as citizens supporting Soldiers, including some who were once Soldiers themselves.

Connie Grimshaw was a member of the 213th Field Artillery, a Cedar City-based unit and predecessor of the 2-222nd. The 213th deployed to Korea in 1951 and also saw the miraculous return of every single Soldier of that unit to his family.

Flight attendants from ATA Airlines watch the mass reunion of Triple Deuce Soldiers and their families June 21.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Flight attendants from ATA Airlines watch the mass reunion

of Triple Deuce Soldiers and their families June 21.

“I’m just here to see the guys come in. When I got off the boat in San Francisco [in 1952] and there was nobody there to meet me, I never had a feeling like that in my life,” said Grimshaw with emotion. “It’s amazing to think that these guys can go and all [of them] come back. These guys, you’re gonna have to love ‘em and hug ‘em, because they’ve gone through a hell of a lot.”

Like Grimshaw, DruElla Chamberlain, did not have any relatives in the Triple Deuce. She explained why there were so many non-family members there to welcome Soldiers home.

“This is just Cedar City. We are a close-knit community, and your son is my son. We’re just thrilled to have them home,” she said.

In contrast, very different circumstances brought Carla Kittler to Cedar City. She is a flight attendant with ATA, one of the charter airlines bringing Triple Deuce Soldiers home. Because of her employment she has watched dozens of homecomings from the top of the airplane’s stairs.

Lt. Col. Richard Miller, commander of the 2-222nd, is the last to leave the plane after arriving at Cedar City Airport June 21.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Lt. Col. Richard Miller, commander of the 2-222nd, is the last to

leave the plane after arriving at Cedar City Airport June 21.

“I bring my camera on every one of these trips. We love bringing them home. It is absolutely rewarding,” said Kittler. “These guys have gone over and fought the enemy. They are protecting us. I personally like hearing their experiences because then I go home and tell everybody about them.”

Among elected officials greeting Soldiers was Cedar City Mayor Gerald Sherratt.

“This is a historic day. We have a parade down Main Street planned. I think the last time we did that was at the end of the First World War,” he said.

“The 213th went to Korea. They called that a miracle because they came home without a casualty, and this is a second miracle. And we’re just thrilled and honored by their service. I don’t think we can do enough for them,” Sherratt added. 

Gov. Huntsman, after shaking hands with each Soldier and meeting families, expressed gratitude for the Triple Deuce’s safe return.

Lt. Col. Richard Miller, left, is greeted by his commander in chief, Gov. Jon M. Huntsman, Jr., as he arrives at Cedar City Airport June 21.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Lt. Col. Richard Miller, left, is greeted by his commander in chief,

Gov. Jon M. Huntsman, Jr., as he arrives at Cedar City Airport June 21.

“We salute their service, we honor their dedication. The fact that they have come home with so little in the way of casualties even that they were right in the middle of the action, I think it’s nothing short of a miracle. It couldn’t be a better day,” he said.

The last one off the plane on this day was Lt. Col. Richard Miller, commander of the 2-222nd. Miller had nothing but praise for the hero’s welcome provided by Cedar City and for his Soldiers.

“This reception is overwhelming. It’s great for our Soldiers to see this. It brings tears to your eyes,” he said.

“It’s been a privilege to be associated with these young men for the past 18 months. Our Soldiers, because they are from Utah, are able to adapt to any mission,” Miller added.

Miller also acknowledged his belief that a divine Hand had a part in the return home of every Soldier in the Triple Deuce.

One of many car-window messages created by families of Triple Deuce Soldiers to welcome them home.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

One of many car-window messages created by families

 of Triple Deuce Soldiers to welcome them home.

“Heavenly Father has had a great part in keeping us alive and keeping us safe. And the support and prayers of the community have been a part of that too. Our brigade lost 80 Soldiers among five battalions, but we were fortunate to be the only battalion in that brigade not to lose a Soldier,” he said.

The next day, Maj. Gen. Tarbet spoke to Soldiers assembled as a group.

“I gave a speech here when you left. There was one line in it from a Franklin Roosevelt World War II speech that some of you would not come back. But I would not read it despite knowing where you were going,” said Tarbet. “I’m just grateful to see you in these chairs. It’s great to have you back. What a wonderful sight!”

Not only was there the expected outpouring of support at the arrivals of the five batteries comprising the 2-222nd, but banners, signs on homes and businesses throughout Southern Utah, city-sponsored parades and celebrations, notes written on car windows, colored plastic cups arranged in messages on freeway overpasses and commemorative newspaper editions told the world that the Triple Deuce was home.

A welcome-home message on northbound Interstate 15 for Beaver-based Service Battery and Richfield-based Alpha Battery, 2-222nd.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

A welcome-home message on northbound Interstate 15 for Beaver-based Service Battery and Richfield-based Alpha Battery, 2-222nd.

But written descriptions and even photos of the reunion of 475 Soldiers of the Triple Deuce and their families cannot do justice to the scenes that this writer/photographer witnessed in Southern Utah the last few days of June.

Those who were there won’t look at a uniform or a flag in quite the same way ever again. Megan Curtis summed up what this deployment did for her and for all of us.

“I look at the Fourth of July celebration much differently now. It has a whole new meaning,” she said. “Somebody has to do it, and now I realize how big of a sacrifice it really is.”

A Beaver convenience store gives some love to returning Soldiers of Service Battery, 2-222nd.

Photo by Kris McIntire

A Beaver convenience store gives some love

to returning Soldiers of Service Battery, 2-222nd.

 

 

 

 

A relieved wife hugs her Triple Deuce Soldier after he arrives home June 22.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

A relieved wife hugs her Triple Deuce

 Soldier after he arrives home June 22.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A young, patriotic supporter of the Triple Deuce awaits the arrival of his Soldier at Salt Lake Air Base June 21.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

A young, patriotic supporter of the Triple Deuce awaits

 the arrival of his Soldier at Salt Lake Air Base June 21.

Maj. Gen. Brian Tarbet, right, snaps a photo for a jubilant family after their Soldier arrives in Cedar City June 21.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Maj. Gen. Brian Tarbet, right, snaps a photo for a jubilant

 family after their Soldier arrives in Cedar City June 21.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An artillery cannon on permanent outdoor display at the Cedar City armory is decked out appropriately for the arrival of the Triple Deuce.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

An artillery cannon on permanent outdoor display at the Cedar City armory is decked out appropriately for the arrival of the Triple Deuce.

A T-shirt worn by many parents welcoming home their Triple Deuce Soldier from service in Iraq.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

A T-shirt worn by many parents welcoming home

 their Triple Deuce Soldier from service in Iraq.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soldiers of Service Battery and Charlie Battery, 2-222nd Field Artillery, exit the plane in Cedar City June 21.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Soldiers of Service Battery and Charlie Battery,

2-222nd Field Artillery, exit the plane in Cedar City June 21.