CUYAHOGA FALLS: It was a small group, but nonetheless moving as they arrived home from danger.
And what they represented was something hopeful — maybe there won’t be many more of these.
A dozen Ohio National Guardsmen arrived home Friday afternoon after a nearly yearlong deployment in three countries, including six months in northern Afghanistan where they were involved in NATO training for Afghan police — one of the most dangerous assignments for U.S. military.
They arrived at the Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy parking lot by bus and spent time with their waiting families.
Then, they filed down an aisle in the school auditorium for the formal ceremony.
Homecomings from Afghanistan for Northeast Ohio Guard units — there have been many since the invasion in October 2001 — may be dwindling as the U.S. cuts its presence there.
Forty area service members have been killed in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq since Sept. 11, 2001.
“I am happy to be home,” said Sgt. Brandon Behney, 26, of Parma, a member of the 174th Air Defense Artillery Brigade out of Stow.
While Friday’s reception was a small one, more than a dozen members of the Patriot Guard and other military support groups held flags to welcome the soldiers home.
The returning unit took part in the Police Advisor Team 1, a NATO operation aimed at developing the Afghan Border Police and the Afghan National Civil Order Police. They worked in the Baghlan and Balkh provinces.
Before arriving in Afghanistan, they trained at Fort Polk, La., and in Germany and Hungary.
“The 12 guys we went with were solid guys,” said Capt. Matthew Robinson, 30, a Medina native, who plans to relax by taking a monthlong vacation to Myrtle Beach, S.C.
The group did a lot of mentoring and advising, said Staff Sgt. Andrew Dannemiller, 29, originally from Willard, but now of Columbus.
“It was a pretty good tour,” he said.
Brig. Gen. John C. Harris Jr., assistant Ohio adjutant general and the commander of the Ohio Army National Guard, said the unit’s work was of utmost importance.
“It is probably one of the most important things that has happened,” Harris said. “If the Afghan security forces cannot sustain a safe and secure environment in Afghanistan, then all the work that has been done there is for naught,” he said.
In addition, the Guard worked with Hungarian soldiers as part of a partnership formed in 1993 through a National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program.
Maj. Scott Elias, commander of the 12-man team, said he was thankful and honored to have served with them.
“They are true professionals,” said Elias, 40, of Parma.
He said it was a challenging mission, but the most important accomplishment is that they all came home “in one piece — that is by far our greatest accomplishment.”
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org.