Schenectady County

Family, friends welcome 501st back from Iraq

After nearly a year of service in Iraq away from their families, the first thing soldiers in the 501

After nearly a year of service in Iraq away from their families, the first thing soldiers in the 501st Ordnance Battalion wanted was a long hug.

The 30 members who deployed last December to Basra, Iraq, returned safe and sound Saturday to a crowd of jubilant and emotional family, friends, fellow soldiers and veterans groups at the battalion’s base, the Scotia-Glenville Armed Forces Reserve Center.

Victoria Landy’s father was in the Army before she was even born. But he had never been deployed until just last year.

“We stuck through it, me and my mom,” said Landy, 16. “My brother’s deploying too. He’s over in California right now training for Afghanistan.”

Sgt. Joe Landy joined the army 26 years ago, and has “just been lucky,” according to his family. But when his battalion was called to go overseas, his aunt Florence Maxfield said he wanted “to be with his men.”

“He didn’t want them to go over by themselves,” Maxfield said.

The soldiers served in an Explosive Ordnance Disposal battalion, a headquarters element that is designed to command three to five EOD companies. While in Iraq, the unit was responsible for counter-improvised explosive device operations in nine provinces spanning about 81,000 square miles in southern Iraq.

For 30 minutes, an assembly hall of people sat in chairs, or stood idly staring at an open door bearing a rustling yellow ribbon. The last 30 minutes of waiting was somehow more anxious than the previous 10 months, family members agreed.

Just before the soldiers’ bus pulled into the lot, groups of families poured into the parking lot to wave, shout and give a warm welcome to their own personal heroes.

Leading the fanfare was a honking motorcycle brigade of Patriot Guard Riders. A charter bus that had left Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey earlier that morning finally pulled around the building, and families hurried inside — some skipping, some in tears, some singing.

Inside the assembly hall, a gate opened and there stood their soldiers in formation.

“It’s one of those feelings that you can’t really describe,” said Staff Sgt. Art VanNess, Jr. “It’s happy, it’s sad, all of that stuff. Just being away is just an overwhelming feeling.”

He said he kept in touch with his family via Skype and phone. Those who turned out to welcome him home Saturday were his wife, brother, in-laws, parents and nieces, what he called a “small family gathering.”

“The first thing I’m going to do is watch the grass grow and the leaves fall,” VanNess said. “Pretty much nothing is what I’m going to do, just relax for the next 30 days and then go back to work.”

Public Affairs Specialist Trisha Pinczez was dressed in fatigues for the occasion of welcoming back her comrades Saturday. She said that leading up to their December deployment, the 501st battalion actually had pre-deployment exercises that required them to leave home in August.

Soldiers submitted a total of 270 daily situation reports over 10 months as part of their job with the New York Army National Guard.

“Iraq is much more settled than it was before,” Pinczez said. “The majority of troops are out of Iraq, so it’s much more established now. But it’s never completely safe any time you’re a U.S. troop deployed overseas.”

After being awarded an outstanding service plaque, Sgt. Joe Landy embraced his waiting family, mingled with colleagues, and accepted handshakes and thanks for his service.

“Ten months of being away from home was just the toughest thing,” he said.

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