Welcome home event Saturday
Saturday is a very special day for one 11-month-old, since it marks the first day her daddy will be home for longer than only a few days.
Abigail Troxel was born Aug. 15, 2002, which coincidentally is the same birthday of her father, Sgt. Darrel Wayne Troxel.
When Abigail was born, Darrel had already been alerted that his unit, the 1st Battalion, 194th Field Artillery, could be called to active duty.
"It was a birthday present to him," said his wife, Jessica.
Less than a month later, just over 50 soldiers from the Storm Lake Armory, along with 300 more from across northwest Iowa, were called to active duty. The troops left Sept. 7, 2002, for a homeland security mission, guarding military installations in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio, leaving family and careers unexpectedly behind.
All of those soldiers return Saturday.
Before the 194th left, families like the Troxels tried to prepare.
"It was definitely hard - I actually thought he might be gone before I had Abigail," Jessica said. "Luckily he didn't leave until about two weeks after she was born."
While the soldiers and their families had time to prepare for the unit's departure, Jessica said there wasn't much they could do with a new baby in the house. The Troxels also have a 6-year-old girl, named Tammy.
"Darrel just tried to make sure the girls had what they needed when he left," Jessica said. "He made sure to ask his dad if he'd be willing to help if we needed it."
Other Guard families through the local support group also helped the Troxels.
"The other family members were willing to be here for us if we needed it," Jessica said.
While Darrel has been gone for close to 11 months, he has had some leave while on active duty.
"The first time he got to come back after he left was around Christmas. It was the first time he got to see Abigail since after she was born," Jessica said. "That was neat for him - she was a lot bigger."
Since Darrel left last September, he and Jessica have exchanged numerous letters and pictures.
"I sent all kinds of pictures of the girls," she said.
Darrel, who had a cell phone, also called home when he got the opportunity.
"If he got a chance to call, he would," Jessica said. "He'd allow some of the other guys to use his phone to call their families, too."
It's hard to describe the elation of having her soldier come home Saturday.
"We're all very, very happy," Jessica said. "It will be like having the family all back together again, but this week is going to go slow."
In addition to Jessica, Tammy and Abigail's anticipation, Darrel is excited as well.
"I know he's excited to be home and to see the girls again," Jessica said. "Tammy can't wait for him to be home."
She said his fellow soldiers helped a lot, too.
"The guys out there with him deserve thanks for making him feel at home," Jessica said. "He missed us a lot, and the guys out there helped him."
Charissa Saathoff, whose husband Rodney is a specialist with the 194th, is overseeing Saturday's homecoming celebration.
"We're hoping all of the surrounding communities come out and thank these guys for the wonderful job they've done serving the country," she said.
Soldiers from the Storm Lake Armory come from every town in the county, as well as from the surrounding area. A few come from even farther away.
For both them and their families, it has been a long 11 months, but Saathoff said a good showing at Saturday's welcome home will show them how much their service means.
"We're just eager to have them home," she said. "It's been a long year and these guys have done a wonderful job."
Some of those most enthused about this weekend are the children.
"The kids are ecstatic right now to have their parents home," Saathoff said. The Saathoffs have three children: Chance, Tyler and Corbin.
It's already been close to 44 weeks, but this week might be the hardest for the families.
"It's just overwhelming - you just can't wait for it to get here," Saathoff said. "You keep busy doing your regular normal routine and eventually Saturday will get here."
Members of the family support group have been at the Armory painting and cleaning so it will be ready for the soldiers' return. That's helped them keep busy, Saathoff said, but it's a different story for the soldiers.
They're at Fort Knox waiting for the bus trip home later this week.
"It's a little slow there - they really are wanting to get home," Saathoff said.
This Saturday, the soldiers will take part in a procession through Storm Lake starting at 10 a.m. The Welcome Home Ceremony will kick off at 10:30 a.m. at the Storm Lake High School Track.
"The main thing the soldiers need to know is that they've done a good job and that we are very supportive of what they have done," Saathoff said.
The entire community will join in the Welcome Home Ceremony set for this Saturday, July 26.
Soldiers will return to their families around 9 a.m. that day.
At 10 a.m., they will board a flatbed trailer furnished by Magnussen Trucking for a procession through Storm Lake. The route will carry soldiers west on Lakeshore Drive, north on Grand Avenue, east on 5th Street, north on Erie, and then east on Milwaukee to the Storm Lake High School.
The ceremony will start at 10:30 a.m. at the Storm Lake High School football field. The emcee is Don Keeler of Storm Lake, a retired member of the 185th Fighter Wing in Sioux City.
Liz Andrew of Storm Lake will sing the National Anthem, while children of the soldiers will release red, white and blue balloons and join in a song at the end of the ceremony.
Speakers include Herb Crampton, County Supervisor, Capt. John Graves of the 194th, and Col. Tracy Warnock.
Following the ceremony, soldiers will return to the Armory for their last meal together as a unit. In case of rain the ceremony will be in the Storm Lake Middle School Gymnasium.