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New Hampshire welcomes home guardsmen

By ALEX LACASSE | Portsmouth Herald | Published: March 13, 2017

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. (Tribune News Service) -- Staff Sgt. Tim Poole of the Army National Guard's 197th Field Artillery Brigade was huddled up in a darkened tent on his most recent deployment in the Middle East waiting for his mother-in-law to text pictures of his newborn daughter.

The brigade returned home a couple of weeks ago in staggered groups, and Poole, of New Boston, finally met his new daughter Penelope Juliette Poole.

On Sunday, Poole and more than 90 fellow National guardsmen of the 197th were formally welcomed home by friends and family in a ceremony at Pease Air National Guard Base.

"I didn't want my wife to have to bring the newborn all the way to Logan Airport, so I told her to stay home originally," Poole said. "My mom and stepdad were at the airport to meet me and after we hugged I started walking to get my luggage and there was my wife and her mother with our daughter in a stroller. I was scared to hold her at first because she's so fragile and I didn't know how to do it."

As part of the ceremony, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu and the state's congressional delegation spoke and relayed gratitude on behalf of the state to the men and women who were overseas for more than a year, as well as their families.

"I think sometimes we forget about the mundane; those everyday things like paying the mortgage, going to school meetings, those are all part of every service member's family's sacrifice and we are so grateful," Sununu said. "Thank you for your dedicated service to your state, to your country. We're happy not just that you're home but we're happy you're home safe."

Sen. Maggie Hassan echoed the gratitude the state owes the returning service members and their families.

"I'm truly honored and grateful to welcome you home. Because of your efforts, our country is safer and our freedom is stronger," Hassan said. "Of course, we know none of you do this alone. For every National Guardsman who is deployed there is a family who simply won't feel whole until their loved one returns."

The brigade was scattered across six different countries in the Middle East as part of Operation Spartan Shield and Operation Inherent Resolve, according to John Leblanc, the unit's colonel.

The brigade was tasked with acquiring Islamic State in Iraq and Syria targets to destroy and also firing long-range artillery against ISIS positions, most notably as part of the campaign to kick ISIS out of Mosul, Iraq, according to Leblanc.

"Our soldiers' motivation, professionalism, positive attitudes and dedication to service brought theater-wide respect and admiration from the many commands we supported, as well from our Army superiors back in the United States," said Leblanc, who also acknowledged the sacrifice the soldiers' families endured. "We couldn't have done it without you and our success is your success."

This was the unit's third deployment since the start of the war on terror in 2001, according to Leblanc. As for the family members of returning soldiers, they are happy to have their loved ones home and out of harm's way.

"It's nice to know they're appreciated," said Helen Baker of Brookfield, New Hampshire, whose husband, Jack, has served in the National Guard for 28 years and has been on each of the brigade's three deployments. "These events are special because the sacrifice of both the service members and their families are honored.

(c) 2017 Portsmouth Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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