Proud of mission, Illinois soldiers return to a warm welcome

Published: Thursday, May 3, 2012 10:56 a.m. CDT

BLOOMINGTON (MCT) — With a feeling of accomplishing an important mission in Afghanistan, about 20 Illinois Army National Guard soldiers came home to a welcoming ceremony Wednesday afternoon at the Bloomington National Guard Armory.

While overseas the soldiers worked as part of Task Force White Eagle, an operation aided by more than 500 Army, Navy and Air Force engineers to build or expand 10 military bases in Ghazni Province for the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.

“I’m proud of my team,” said Col. Tom Purple, a Rochester resident and commander of the returning guardsmen. “We did reduce enemy activity in our area.”

He said if forces can secure major transportation routes, such as Highway 1 linking Kandahar and Kabul, the country will have a shot at economic development and long-term stability. “Economic development will enrich lives,” he said.

The soldiers left in June for training in Indiana and Poland before going to Afghanistan.

Among those returning home was Capt. Brad Roach, a Bloomington resident who was welcomed by his wife of eight years, Rachal. Roach said he’d been in the service since he signed up more than 18 years ago on his 17th birthday.

“It was stressful,” he said of the task force’s mission, in which he served as a brigade battle captain, managing day to day aspects of the mission. “I’m good until next time, but I hope it’s down the road.”

Asked what he thought of President Barack Obama’s pronouncement Tuesday that the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan was winding down, Roach said, “I’m a soldier and my job is to do what my country needs me to do.”

Also among those returning home Wednesday was Normal resident Lt. Col. Rommel Guerrero, who found his wife, Alethea, and daughters, Alexis and Adreana, in the audience. Alethea Guerrero said the hardest part of her husband being overseas “is just being a single parent — the daily tasks of kids and family, of life.”

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