Sgt. John Ahlers, a Laurens native and hometown hero, returned home safely after 15 months in Iraq Wednesday, August 4. He was welcomed back with a parade in his honor, including the Laurens Fire Department, Police Department, family and friends. Ahlers was also supported by his unit mates, Charles Harrold, Sgt., and John Fansega, Officer Cadet, both from the area, who returned home safely last year after being stationed stateside.
Ahlers' mother, Brenda Ruble, was instrumental in the planning of the event and along with family and friends constructed several signs posted along the parade route welcoming the soldier home.
Nervously anticipating the arrival of her son, Ruble emotionally shared her thoughts, "I didn't want to be the one to pick him up. I would have bawled all the way home. It wouldn't have been a fun ride."
Following a brief pause, she sighed and continued, "I wonder what he looks like.. he said that he had lost 30 pounds."
While the convoy made its way through the streets, well- wishers consisting of Laurens residents and visitors gathered at the Laurens City Park for a ceremony in Ahlers' honor. There the V.F.W. presented Sgt. Ahlers with colors. Special music by Bill Hertz was provided.
A very emotional and inspiring poem written by Helen Steiner Rice, "A Prayer for Our Nation", was emotionally read by his mother. Ahlers' aunt, Martha Lane Harold, played a solo on her harp and sang a song in honor of her nephew. Pastor Larry Alpine gave a closing prayer, "...Let's keep family with personnel still over seas in our prayers."
Ahlers was very overwhelmed and excited about the support he received when he returned home Wednesday evening.
"It is an incredible feeling to see all of these people here. It is overwhelming. I didn't expect everyone to go out of their way just for me."
Ahlers will be returning to Germany August 23, awaiting his orders to once again return to Iraq.
And just as she has done since her son was deployed, his mother and church volunteers will package items for not only John but other local soldiers. "I'll be doing something as long as John is in," said Brenda.
"We send simple things that we wouldn't think about. Fun things like bubbles and yo-yos. It's worth the five minutes of them having a laugh or two," giggled Ruble. When finished with the fun toys, the recipients pass their fun treasures off to the Iraqi children giving them a chance to enjoy the "simple things".
While shopping for the ingredients needed for the care packages Ruble recalled an incident which warmed her heart.
"I was filling a cart, when a woman asked me what I was going to do with all of that stuff. I told her and she threw me a twenty dollar bill to buy even more."
As we read and listen to all that our heroes in our Armed Services have accomplished, let us also reflect on what young Sgt. John Ahlers proclaimed while he was being praised for his service by many family members and friends, "Thank you for coming and for boosting our morale. It is you that are the true heroes!