From left, 1st Sgt. Robert Wendell, of Holts Summit, and Maj. Jamie Melchert, of Columbia, are welcomed home by Gov. Jay Nixon just prior to a formal welcome home ceremony for the Missouri National Guard's 1138th Transportation Company in Manchester on Saturday. The unit recently completed a 10-month convoy operations mission in Afghanistan. (Bill Phelan photo)
MANCHESTER, Mo. - Nearly 800 people filled the First Evangelical Free Church in Manchester Saturday to welcome home the Missouri National Guard's 1138th Transportation Company from a 10-month convoy operations mission in Afghanistan.
Gov. Jay Nixon, Maj. Gen. Stephen Danner, adjutant general of the Missouri National Guard, and U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan were among the dignitaries attending the joyous celebration.
The 1138th is based at historic Jefferson Barracks in south St. Louis County and was mobilized for Operation Enduring Freedom last May. Following two months of intensive combat and convoy operations training, 170 soldiers of the unit were deployed to Bagram Airbase, Afghanistan.
After months of separation, Elizabeth Trudgen, of Marshfield, was more than anxious to see her husband, 1st Lt. Travis Trudgen. Holding a sign that read, "Welcome home daddy, we love you," were the couple's two children, Caleb and Haley.
"I could not wait for today to come," Elizabeth said. "This was our first deployment and it all happened very quickly, so I cannot wait to see my husband. "
Equally anxious was Angela Acord, of Dixon, the wife of Master Sgt. Jackie Acord. The couple is the proud parents of 4-year-old twins, Ethan and Erin.
"Jackie got to come home last October," Angela said. "We got married on the 29th and he went back to Afghanistan on November 5th. That was very, very hard. So now I'm so excited, like a little kid at Christmas."
While deployed, 1138th Commander, Jamie P. Melchert, of Columbia, Mo., was promoted to the rank of major and awarded the Bronze Star. But to his wife Brenda and the couple's two children, having him home was all that mattered.
"We are very excited," Brenda said. "This deployment was hard. This was our second deployment but even though we knew what to expect it didn't make it any easier."
In an emotional encounter before the ceremony, Gov. Nixon and Maj. Gen. Danner shook the hand of every returning 1138th soldier and voiced their pride and support for the unit.
"It is good to see every one of you come back to the Show-Me State at the end of a successful mission," Nixon said. "I am extremely proud of your service."
"I have watched in awe your service and what you've done for the country and the state," Danner added. "Your sacrifices are appreciated and it's good to have you all home."
Nixon also brought the returning soldiers up to speed on certain events that occurred in their absence.
"We managed to get the World Series done while you were gone," Nixon said. "And the Missouri Tigers switched from the Big 12 to the SEC."
During the ceremony Danner praised the leadership of Maj. Melchert, his officer corps and the unit's noncommissioned officers for brining each soldier home.
"Major Melchert, you and your command are to be commended for the professionalism in the way you carried yourself in theater," Danner said. "You followed tactics and procedures and brought every soldier home from a dangerous mission."
"It feels just great to be home," Melchert said. "I'm on cloud nine. It didn't really seem real until we began to train our replacement unit and after that it was like, 'When does our plane leave.'"
During its deployment the 1138th completed more than 90 convoy operations missions, delivering crucial supplies valued at $2.7 billion to forward operating bases across austere and treacherous terrain. As part of Task Force 142, the unit also escorted more than 4,900 Afghan national trucks carrying critical supplies and vehicles in support of units throughout eastern Afghanistan. All told, 1138th missions covered a combined individual total of 847,000 miles driven.
Before departing from Afghanistan April 20, more than a dozen 1138th soldiers were awarded the Bronze Star and more than 100 soldiers received the Army Commendation Medal. All 170 deployed soldiers of the unit were awarded the Overseas Service Ribbon, the NATO Medal, and the Afghanistan Campaign Medal.
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Angela Acord, of Dixon, and her daughter, 4-year-old Erin, await the return of Master Sgt. Jackie Acord, Angela's husband and Erin's father, prior to Saturday's welcome home ceremony for the Missouri National Guard's 1138th Transportation Company. The unit recently returned from a 10-month convoy operations mission in Afghanistan. (Bill Phelan photo)
Anxiously waiting to see 1st Lt. Travis Trudgen, of Marshfield, was his wife, Elizabeth and the couple's children Caleb and Haley. Lt. Trudgen was among 170 soldiers of the Missouri National Guard's 1138th Transportation Company which recently completed a 10-month convoy operations mission in Afghanistan. (Bill Phelan photo)