Operation Salute Our Heroes

163rd Buses arrive at fairgrounds before the ceremony
163rd Buses arrive at fairgrounds before the ceremony
Specialist Jamie Brown, wounded in Iraq, speaks to his comrades
Specialist Jamie Brown, wounded in Iraq, speaks to his comrades
Crowd members celebrated when the troops were dismissed
Crowd members celebrated when the troops were dismissed
Reporter: Rhanda Stewart
New Media Producer: Kerry Corum

Update, Sunday, 9:00 p.m: It was a service filled with smiles, hugs, tears of joy and a couple of surprises too.

"Operation Salute Our Heroes" honored members of Evansville's 163rd Field Artillery Unit as they were welcomed home after a year at war.

It's the moment military families and friends have been waiting for all year long.

One girlfriend remarked, "I'm glad he's home, I can sleep at night."

Hundreds show up for a hero's welcome for over 60 soldiers in the 163rd Field Artillery Unit.

Many of the soldiers were surprised at the outpouring of support. Staff Sergeant Ryan Ewalt says,"I knew we had a lot of support back here, but I never would have believed this. We were all really surprised."

The biggest surprise: Specialist Jamie Brown, who was supposed to be in Walter Reed Army Medical Center - attended the event with his wife Jennifer. It was an emotional moment when he was reunited with those who saved him. SPC Brown's first comment? "Hooo-ah" And he got the same in a resounding reply.

"Operation Salute Our Heroes" was broadcast live Sunday morning right here on 14 WFIE. We thank everyone who was involved with making it all come together.

Previously: Throughout Sunday morning at the Vanderburgh County fairgrounds, the message was the same. Mothers, fathers, wives, kids and other loved ones were happy to have their citizen-soldiers back home.

As the final event of their current activation, sixty plus members of the 1st Battalion of the 163rd Field Artillery of the Indiana National Guard were honored for their service in Iraq.

Talking with family members outside Building 1 at the 4-H Center, stories came out of a year spent trying to communicate with the troops, and doing little things here at home to show their support. Everything from collecting school supplies for Iraqi children to waiting by the computer or telephone for an e-mail or a phone call.

The 163rd members arrived on two buses from Camp Atterbury shortly before 10am CST to a cheering crowd of well wishers.

Inside, the reception included a standing ovation for the troops as their commanders and others spoke of their service in Iraq. Newsatch's Mike Blake was emcee of the program.

About halfway through the program, the troops got a surprise when Specialist Jaime Brown walked in with his wife Jennifer. Brown was wounded while in Iraq, and has been in treatment and rehabilitation since then. Brown received a four day pass to attend Sunday's ceremony. He told his comrades, "You guys don't know how good it feels to be here. I thought about you many times in the past weeks and I'm glad to see you here." The returning troops cheered his remarks.

Follwing a number of speakers, the Guardsmen were individually introduced and received congratulations from their commanders along with items from the unit's family support group.

Just before the troops were dismissed for the last time, 163rd commander Lt. Col. Danny R. Thomas told them, "Gentlemen, you performed valiantly. Today, the world is a better place for your service. Your sacrifice is over. I have prayed for your safe return, and many prayers have been answered."

Most of the 163rd members now have several months off from Guard duty. They will not have to report again until this summer.