Local Indiana National Guard unit almost home
By Christin Nance Lazerus firstname.lastname@example.org September 24, 2012 7:58PM
Members of the 713th Engineer Company of the Army National Guard deplane at Biggs Army Airfield at Ft. Bliss in El Paso, Tx September 17th. The company based in Valpariaso, is returning from its deployment to Afghanistan. | Claudia R. Kennedy~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 26, 2012 2:08PM
While 95 members of the Indiana National Guard 713th Engineer Company left Valparaiso for Afghanistan nearly a year ago, 89 are returning home this week.
The guardsmen arrived on U.S. soil last week after a year that took a heavy toll on the unit.
Six members of the unit were killed as the company completed the dangerous mission of patrolling roads and clearing away roadside bombs in Kandahar Province for 101/2 months.
On July 16, 2011, Spc. Sergio E. Perez Jr., 21, of Crown Point, and Spc. Nicholas A. Taylor, 20, of Berne, were killed by small arms fire during an ambush.
On Jan. 5, Spc. Robert J. Tauteris, Jr., 44, of Hamlet; Staff Sgt. Jonathan M. Metzger, of Indianapolis; Spc. Brian J. Leonhardt, 21, of Merrillville; and Spc. Christopher Patterson, 20, of Aurora, Ill., were killed when their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device. Pfc. Douglas Rachowicz, 30, of Hammond, was the lone survivor and received the Purple Heart in May.
In addition, a noncommissioned officer attached to the unit was killed by an improvised explosive device in June.
The soldiers landed at Fort Bliss Army base in Texas in two waves — on Sept. 15 and 17 — and the unit will complete the demobilization process over the next few days before heading home to Valparaiso, where it is based. Fort Bliss public affairs officer Ashley Alameda said each soldier will undergo a medical examination and complete administrative paperwork. Alameda said that she didn’t have details on a welcome home ceremony.
Chuck Marsh has been nervously waiting for a year for his 22-year-old son, Spc. Ryan Marsh, to return home from Afghanistan with the 713th.
“They’re back in Texas and the consensus is that they’ll be back in Valpo on Wednesday,” said a proud Marsh.
“We’re quite relieved — hopefully they’ll all be back with their families soon.”
Marsh spoke with his son on Sunday. “He’s OK and he can’t wait to get back,” he said. “The closer you get to combat the more nervous you get.”
Indiana Army National Guard Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Martin R. Umbarger met the flight on Sept. 17 and he presented each soldier with a commemorative token, stating he believes each and every one of them deserved it, “and it’s my honor to present it to you.”
Twenty-five Indiana National Guard troops have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since the war in Iraq began in 2003.
When the unit arrived in Texas, company commander Capt. Cecil W. Pendleton III spoke of his pride in the company for accomplishing their missions, but the losses “made for a very long, hard year, but we learned lessons.”
“When 2nd Platoon was involved in an IED strike on Jan. 6, four of the five men in the truck were killed,” Pendleton said in an Army news release. “One (Rachowicz) survived but had very serious injuries. The medic and the first to respond were able to stabilize him and get him out of there despite the chaos, which is a huge testament to the platoon, soldiers and the company’s focus on each other.”
Rachowicz suffered a broken pelvis, cracked ribs, deflated lungs, a cracked jaw and other injuries, and returned to Hammond in April.
Pendleton gave credit to his wife, Rachel, for offering support to families who lost their loved ones as head of the Family Readiness Group.
The unit’s 95 soldiers left Northwest Indiana on Sept. 30, 2011, after an emotional ceremony at the Porter County 4-H building. A large majority of the soldiers were serving their first tour, as only 14 previously served in previous missions. About 75 percent of the unit’s members are from Northwest Indiana. Two soldiers are from Illinois and one from Iowa.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels remarked on the heavy casualties the unit sustained in July.
“Every such loss is a heartbreak,” Daniels said in a statement. “We are hit with special severity here because of the casualties this heroic unit has already endured. No Guard unit in my memory has been assigned a more dangerous mission than the 713th.”