SIKESTON - It is one of those moments family members have waited so patiently for - the knowledge their soldiers are safely back on U.S. soil.
After more than a year of service in Iraq, the approximately 500-member Missouri Army National Guard 1140th Engineer Battalion is on their way home. The troops departed about 1:30 p.m. Central Standard Time Tuesday with arrival expected today at Fort Riley, Kan.
"We are in the waiting game right now. We can't wait to get them back home and back in our arms again," said Sondra Armour, wife of First Sgt. Dan Armour and mother of Specialist Brent Armour, who served together in the 1140th.
The soldiers are expected to spend several days at Fort Riley before heading back to Missouri by bus. To mark their homecoming, Sikeston residents are preparing a red-white-and-blue all-American welcome.
Jeff Miles, who has led the support group Coalition Charlie Company since the troops' departure last February to Iraq, said planning for the return began months ago. A committee to arrange the welcoming ceremonies was formed last fall.
At that time, the Army provided a general time frame of late February or early March for the soldiers' return. While the date still isn't confirmed by the military, the National Guard Company's arrival in Sikeston is expected Tuesday.
"We would like to have everybody show up and welcome them home," said Miles. "They have been away for more than a year - it would be nice to show them they were in our minds, our thoughts and our prayers."
While the 1140th has companies based in Cape Girardeau, Farmington and Perryville as well as Sikeston, Jim Schwaninger, who is co-chairing the welcoming ceremonies, said the Sikeston arrival will be the official welcome home ceremony.
If all goes according to plans, Schwaninger said the buses are expected to pull into Sikeston about 7 a.m. Tuesday. The four buses will have a special escort provided by area law enforcement. Their route should take them down Malone Avenue turning onto Pine Street then onto Kathleen Street to the Armory.
"We know their families will be waiting to greet them at Armory but we hope other folks will want to line the route," said Schwaninger. "This is a chance to clap for them, wave a flag and let them know we are happy to have them home."
Especially good news, those involved agreed, is the fact there was no loss of life among the members of the 1140th while they were serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Schwaninger said as part of the plans the committee is encouraging businesses to post welcome home messages on their marquees. The public is also urged to make signs of welcome.
After the families will greet the soldiers at the Armory, the public will have the opportunity to show their support of the local soldiers in a special ceremony planned for 4 p.m. at the Sikeston Field House.
"There will be music and banners. We want to do everything we can to thank those families and those young men and young women who have served us over the past few months," he said.
It is the support by the community, both the organized groups such as Coalition Charlie Company and the Family Readiness Group as well as individuals and their prayers which made the past months bearable, said Armour. She added she knows the Guard members will appreciate seeing the community's support on their return as well.
"I just hope the community will be out in full support of them and show them how much they appreciate their sacrifice and show them how happy they are to have them back," she said.
And when all the public hoopla is over and Armour's husband and son are home, there will be one last small ceremony she looks forward to - "I've still got my yellow ribbons and my service flags up," she noted. "I will leave those up until after they come home to stay."
More details on the 1140th's return will be announced in the Standard Democrat as the return times are confirmed by the Army.