sadly - I'm not going to be able to make it. My car is in the shop getting work done. I really wanted to see the parade and welcome back our troops. Let me know if anyone goes.

A welcome home for National Guard heroes
Thursday, June 11, 2009
BY MAJ. GEN. GLENN K. RIETH


At 10:30 tomorrow morning, a column of tan combat boots stretching as far as the eye can see will step off from the World War II memorial on West State Street and march into a Trenton downtown that will be transformed into New Jersey's version of the Canyon of Heroes.

The parade to welcome home the citizen soldiers of the New Jersey Army National Guard's 50th Infantry Brigade Combat Team after their tour in Iraq is expected to draw a crowd of many thousands and may be one of the largest public celebrations our capital city has ever seen.

There couldn't be a more appropriate way to bring closure to the largest combat deployment of New Jersey's sons and daughters since World War II.

The parade and the ensuing public celebration at Trenton's Mill Hill Park and gala inside the Sovereign Bank Arena for the soldiers and their families is a significant event in the life of the Garden State.

That's because this homecoming symbolizes more than the end of a historic deployment.

For starters, it's a tribute to the generous spirit of a legion of volunteers from a host of community-based nonprofits who worked tirelessly to support the National Guard during its hectic drumbeat of deployments around the globe over the past eight years. Most of these groups have gone above and beyond anyone's expectations in preparation for tomorrow's event.

The homecoming celebrates community in its purest sense. Elected officials from Gov. Jon Corzine to Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer to Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes embraced the idea of hosting the parade. And the outpouring of support from countless people who have told me they'll be at the parade shows they understand that the members of the National Guard live and work in their communities. They see the National Guard at PTA meetings, on the Little League fields and in their houses of worship. It's the reason the National Guard is known as the Hometown Team.

This homecoming is also significant because it puts special emphasis on the wives and husbands who were without their spouses for a year and the children who celebrated birthdays, holidays and took first bicycle rides without the parent at their side. For their ability to carry on and allow their soldier to serve his or her state and nation, the families are the unsung heroes of this prolonged conflict.

Speaking of heroes brings me back to the men and women who will march down South Broad Street for the symbolic closure of their mission in Iraq.

The positive impact they had in Iraq cannot be overstated. The 2,900 soldiers of the 50th IBCT arrived in Iraq in September 2008, a critical juncture in the conflict as American forces were turning over many of their missions to their Iraqi counterparts. The soldiers from New Jersey ended up with two of the most high-profile and politically sensitive of those missions.

The first was operation of the two main detention centers, including the Camp Bucca Theater Internment Facility near Basra, which housed more than 13,000 detainees. By every account, the brigade from New Jersey set the standard for professional conduct and the humane treatment of detainees. They did this by drawing on the strength of their leaders and the experience of dozens of soldiers who work as law-enforcement and corrections officers in their civilian jobs in New Jersey. It was largely based on this expertise that the brigade was assigned its mission, which also included training the Iraqi corrections officers who ultimately replaced them when they redeployed home.

The brigade's second major mission when it arrived in Iraq -- responsibility for the operation and security of Baghdad's International Zone -- was no less important than detainee operations. Those 4.5 square-miles are the nerve center of Iraq's government. Threats to its security compromise the fledgling democracy's very ability to operate. Not only did the brigade handle the security and operations of the zone without a hitch, its soldiers trained their Iraqi replacements to the proper standard in just a few months and were able to transfer power in January. That handoff was a major milestone in American military operations in Iraq and a concrete example of the Iraqi military's growing ability to provide security and stability in a critical region of the country.

By the time the brigade was ready to leave, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the four-star general in command of all American military forces in Iraq and a New Jersey native, was calling them "my home boys."

The heroes' welcome that awaits the brigade tomorrow shows New Jersey understands they are "home boys" and "home girls" to us all.

Maj. Gen. Glenn K. Rieth is the adjutant general of New Jersey and the commander of the state's National Guard.