"It's awesome," said Sturgis Mayor Mark Ziegler. "We've been waiting for this over the winter and spring. … Its' the first step in getting our men and women back from the war."

Mayor Ziegler is urging family and friends to line the streets in Sturgis for a parade to salute the 109th Engineer Company of the South Dakota Army National Guard of Sturgis at 2 p.m. Saturday.

"Bring out the flags," he said. "I'd appreciate everyone filling the streets like we did when the 842nd left."

The 109th was the state's first unit to be deployed to Kuwait and the only South Dakota troop in Iraq during the "shock and awe" campaign of Operation Iraqi Freedom that began March 19. They crossed the border four days into the war, according to Guard members.

The unit arrived in Fort Carson, Colo., on July 22 where they went through a demobilization process. The soldiers received medical screenings, finance and file reviews, and demobilization briefings.

Chief of Staff of the SDANG Col. Charles Gray, of Sturgis, looks forward to having his son Robert, a member of the 109th back home.

"It was good to talk to him (Tuesday from Ft. Carson) and not hear his voice delayed," Col. Gray said today. "I sensed how good it felt (for them) not to be in Iraq and back in America."

Gray said he originally received the news of their return last weekend. "They said they finally got a tail number for a plane home. … The whole family is just pleased."

The Colonel said he wouldn't miss the parade.

"The more people that participate the better," he said. "The communities have been great about showing their support. … It will be quite a welcome home."

On Monday, a welcome home ceremony for the 109th will be held at the Grunwald Middle School at 3 p.m. Governor Michael Rounds and Maj. Gen. Michael Gorman, adjutant general, will address the soldiers and families.

In addition to Col. Gray and Maj. Gen. Gorman, Assistant Adjutant Gen. Ray Carpenter will be in attendance. All three of the top SDANG brass boast having reigned from Sturgis.

"Yes, it will be quite a welcome home," Col. Gray said. "Keep in mind though, there are 850 soldiers (from seven units from 15 South Dakota communities) in harms way in Iraq and Kuwait. We need to keep them in our thoughts and prayers."

Saturday's parade route will begin at the National Guard's Organizational Maintenance Shop and Guard facility, across from Campbell's Supply, and travel east on Lazelle Street, and ending at Brown High School near Ft. Meade.

The public is encouraged to attend both events.

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