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Families Welcome V.I. National Guard Soldiers Home from Middle East

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Oct. 29, 2006 — With a loud cheer that echoed through the baggage claim room at the Henry Rohlsen Airport Sunday evening, family and friends welcomed six soldiers back from duty in the Middle East.
The six Crucian soldiers were part of an 11-man contingency that spent the last year protecting generals, officers and congressmen in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Five other soldiers from St. Thomas returned an hour earlier at the Cyril E. King Airport.
The soldiers and their families greeted each other with hugs, smiles and screams of delight.
"Its great and wonderful knowing they are all back safe and sound," said a beaming Ferryneisa Benjamin as she hugged her son, Sgt. Ofari Benjamin. He had just served two tours of duty in Kuwait.
After all the hugs and kisses, the soldiers were officially welcomed home with a ceremony in the hospitality room at the airport, which was decorated with green and yellow balloons and a large banner that read, "VING Welcomes Our Warriors." The soldiers served in the 661st Military Police Protective Services Detail (PSD).
"The mission was a great success," said Sgt. First Class William Harvey, who led the 661st mission. "The Virgin Islands National Guard represented the Virgin Islands very well."
Adjutant General Eddy Charles, who commands the VING, sounded like a proud father in welcoming back his troops: "We really appreciate all the efforts you put forth."
The 661st received "exemplary" training that ranged from the cold snows of Fort Bragg, N.C., to the blistering sands of Iraq and Kuwait, Charles said. He told the audience the soldiers had learned skills that will serve them well in their civilian jobs as police officers and security guards.
"Id tell the gubernatorial candidates that they should look to these guys if they are looking for a security detail," Charles said.
Delegate Donna M. Christensen agreed with Charles.
"I hear nothing but praise for your work," she said. "I am extremely excited to have you back."
After the ceremony, Harvey walked around the room shaking hands and talking to friends while carrying his 8-month-old granddaughter, Leshay.
"I plan to spoil her," Harvey said with a big smile. "The toughest part was just being away from home."
Harvey talked about how dangerous it was in Iraq, and October was the most dangerous time for American troops since the war started. But he said that his training in VING, along with 23 years as a V.I. police officer, helped him get through.
"The training gave you mental readiness for whatever happened," Harvey said.
Sgt. Ofari Benjamin is the son of Labor Commissioner Cecil Benjamin. The father said his son, who is a computer and information-technology expert, spent most of his time on "special assignment in Kuwait." The last time he had seen his son was in July, when Ofari came home for a 10-day leave.
The 661st consists of St. Croix soldiers Sgt. First Class William Harvey, Staff Sgt. Eddie Stout, Staff Sgt. Roserie Wade, Sgt. Ofari Benjamin, Sgt. Dudley Fabio and Sgt. Dwayne Cromwell, and, from St. Thomas, Sgt. Kellen Phillips, Sgt. Edward Somersall, Sgt. Stedman Hodge, Sgt. Whuephern Donovan, Specialist Kelvin Richards and Specialist Alphaeus Anthony.
The Virgin Islands will welcome home 80 more VING soldiers this Tuesday as members of the 610th Quartermaster Company return to the territory from Iraq. The ceremonies are slated for 2 p.m. at the University of the Virgin Islands' Sports and Fitness Center on St. Thomas, and at 4:30 p.m. in the hospitality room at the Henry Rohlsen Airport.
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