1st Sgt. Robert Wendell, of Holts Summit, is interviewed for the St. Louis Cardinals pre-game show broadcast Monday afternoon by Jim Hayes, of Fox Sports Midwest. With Wendell is his wife, Dena and the couple's 14-year-old son, Jon. (Bill Phelan photo)
ST. LOUIS, Mo. - Standing on the immaculate, sunlit field at Busch Stadium Monday afternoon, 1st Sgt. Robert Wendell, of Holts Summit, marveled at his surroundings.
"It's finally sunk in," said Wendell. "I'm home."
Just four weeks ago 1st Sgt.Wendell and 169 fellow soldiers of the Missouri National Guard's 1138th Transportation Company were in Afghanistan, ending a dangerous 10-month convoy operations mission.
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.
In September, the 1138th was part of a live, salute to the troops by Fox Sports Midwest. During a Cardinal game broadcast, Wendell was able to wish his wife, Dena, a happy 50th birthday on live television as he watched the game at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.
Upon his return home, Wendell and his family were presented with luxury suite tickets to Monday's Cardinal game versus the San Diego, Padres. In addition to great seats, Robert, Dena, and their son, Jon, 14, were interviewed on the field and appeared on the Fox Sports pre-game show.
"This is the greatest 'thank you' I've ever gotten in my life," said Wendell. "This means a lot. It shows that Fox Sports cares about and supports all the troops. I thought the interview back in September was the end of it, so I'm a bit overwhelmed."
Accompanying the Wendells throughout the stadium was David Pokorny, marketing director for Fox Sports Midwest. Pokorny had attended the 1138th's welcome home ceremony on May 5.
"In speaking with 1st Sgt. Wendell today I learned more about what he did in Afghanistan as the first sergeant of the 1138th," Pokorny said. "So, Sgt. Wendell is a representative of all the Soldiers of the Missouri National Guard, because obviously we can't host every soldier to the Fox suite. This is a way for us to stay connected to the troops."
"I'm 57 years old and I was just telling Jon that I've never done anything like this before," Wendell said. "This is a big deal."
"We'll remember this day for the rest of our lives," added Dena, who said she would frame their field passes and game tickets for posterity.
Adding to the Wendell's excitement Monday was the fact that the Cardinals won the game, 4-3.
Fox Sports Midwest will again present their annual "This One's for You," salute to the troops broadcast on Friday night, when the Red Birds take on the Philadelphia, Phillies at 7:15 p.m.
"I want the Missouri National Guard to know that we think of them and their service all the time," Pokorny said. "We know what they do in terms of serving the country and we know how they should be treated."
For more information about the Missouri National Guard, please visit www.moguard.com and our social media sites: www.facebook.com/Missouri.National.Guard; www.twitter.com/Missouri_NG; www.youtube.com/MoNationalGuard; www.myspace.com/missouri_ng; www.flickr.com/photos/missouriguard; www.moguard.com/blog; www.pinterest.com/monationalguard/
Dena, Jon, and 1st Sgt. Robert Wendell, of Holts Summit, enjoy Monday's Cardinal game from the Fox Sports Midwest luxury suite at Busch Stadium. (Bill Phelan photo)