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Upland-based Army reserve battalion welcomed home

UPLAND -- About 120 Army reservists were honored at a "Welcome Home Warriors" ceremony on Sunday.

Returning members of the Upland-based 426 Civil Affairs Battalion of the Army Reserve were greeted and saluted at Upland Memorial Park.

The nonprofit O.A.T.H -- which stands for Outstanding Americans Thanking Heroes -- hosted the event for the airborne battalion, one of six in the nation.

Civil Affairs soldiers are the liaison between the Army and civilian authorities and populations. Their duties include helping re-build and improve roads, educational systems, buildings, clinics, public health and the legitimate government of the community they are in.

"We ignored Vietnam veterans and

we don't want that to happen to our soldiers," said Jolyne Roberts, a founding member of the Rancho Cucamonga-based nonprofit. "This is all about letting them know that we love them and are grateful for them."

O.A.T.H. was created last year to help establish networks and support military families during pre-deployment, deployment and post-deployment.

About 120 of those in the battalion who were deployed to Afghanistan in January 2012 were at Sunday's hour-long ceremony, as well as members of Semper Fi and the motorcycle enthusiast group Patriot Guard Riders, who formed a flag line.

Among the dignitaries on hand were Upland Mayor Ray Musser, Pomona Mayor Elliott Rothman, Ontario Councilman Paul Vincent Avila and representatives of Rep. Gary Miller and Assemblyman Mike Morell, both R-Rancho Cucamonga.

Former "American Idol" contestant Keonna Evans sang the national anthem and Tom Ruck, author of the book "Sacred Ground: A Tribute to America's Veterans" encouraged support of all members of the military.

"Our military needs our support right now," Ruck said at the ceremony. "I believe it's our job (as citizens) to educate more, tell the stories of military."

In addition to the welcome-home event, a Purple Heart was presented to Army Reserve Sgt. Timothy Yates, who was wounded when his vehicle rolled over and detonated an explosive in November 2012 in Afghanistan.

The blast perforated Yates' ear drum, causing bleeding, migraines and loss of hearing.

After receiving aid from the medic, Yates resumed his duties as a gunner providing lead security as the convoy returned to the base, said Army Reserve Maj. John Avans.

The badge was pinned on by Yates' father, Army Capt. Shane Yates, a chaplain.

"It was awesome and something sentimental because we were both deployed to Iraq in 2008," said Sgt. Yates, 22, of Washington.

The battalion commander, Lt. Col. Ray Short, said the Purple Heart bridges every soldier who is living to those who passed in a previous conflict.

"It's a physical manifestation of the sacrifices that were made," he said.

Hours before the 426th Civil Affairs Battalion left for Afghanistan in January 2012, O.A.T.H. hosted a spaghetti dinner for the soldiers and their families at the American Legion Post in Ontario.

Short said his servicemen and women to this day talk about the generosity that evening.

"Soldiers want to know that the year taken out of their lives are worth it," he said. "And what was great about this ceremony is that is was one given by the community."

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