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Sgt. Mike Tobin, of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, wrangles a rope Wednesday that will raise a sheath of canvas on a large fest tent at the site for the brigade's reception. Though funding for big welcome-home bashes has been slashed by the Army, the brigade, with help from other units and donated time by civilians and schoolchildren, has found ways around the funding shortage and will throw a party Tuesday that is almost as big as former blowouts at a fraction of the cost.
Sgt. Mike Tobin, of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, wrangles a rope Wednesday that will raise a sheath of canvas on a large fest tent at the site for the brigade's reception. Though funding for big welcome-home bashes has been slashed by the Army, the brigade, with help from other units and donated time by civilians and schoolchildren, has found ways around the funding shortage and will throw a party Tuesday that is almost as big as former blowouts at a fraction of the cost. (Matt Millham / S&S)

FRIEDBERG, Germany — Break out the beer. The welcome home party will go on — albeit at a slightly smaller scale — for 1st Brigade Combat Team soldiers just back from Iraq.

Though funding for big welcome home bashes was slashed by the Army in December, the brigade, with help from other units and donated time by civilians and school children, has found ways around it.

The brigade will throw a party Tuesday that will be almost as big as former blowouts, but at a fraction of the price.

Rather than feel sorry for themselves after learning of the funding cut, brigade and division staffers put their heads together to come up with solutions to the funding shortage, Col. Sean B. MacFarland, brigade commander, said Wednesday.

What they came up with, he said, is “about 90 percent of what other units have experienced for a welcome home for about 10 percent of the cost.”

“They’ll all get to have beer and brats and stuff like that,” he said, adding that they’re calling the welcome home a reception rather than a celebration.

“They said something like 3,000 people are coming,” said Gerhard Mehrbreier, the so-called tent meister for the 21st Theater Support Command, which lent four large fest tents to the brigade for the reception. “We hope they come.”

Mehrbreier, aided by a crew of soldiers, began setting up the tents Friday, and he expects the task to be done by Thursday.

“A contractor would charge maybe 30,000 or 40,000 euros for the same thing,” Mehrbreier said. Instead, the brigade will pay just the cost of Mehrbreier’s food and lodging — less than $1,000.

“Our soldiers deserve the best in and out of combat, and we want to be good stewards of taxpayer funds,” said Maj. Wayne Marotto, a 1st Armored Division spokesman. The division was unable to say how much it would save by relying on mostly Army-owned assets for the party.

To cut costs for food, “we’re conducting some training for some Army cooks, which is allowing them to use some Army mobile kitchen trailers to cook the hot dogs and the brats and stuff like that,” MacFarland said.

He added that using Army assets to prepare the food will allow some 1st Armored Division leaders to flip burgers and serve the soldiers, “which you couldn’t do if it was a vendor.”

Money for the food — the biggest expense left with the tents out of the way — will come from a fund for unit Morale, Welfare and Recreation activities.

“It’s pay as you go for the beer,” MacFarland said, “but, you know, I think most soldiers have saved up enough money over the past year.”

Not all the assets being used for the party are coming from in-house.

Country musician Chely Wright, who amused the brigade while it was in Iraq, has volunteered to entertain the troops again. The country singer formed a relationship with the unit in Iraq, said Maj. Tony Perry, the brigade’s personnel chief, who added, “I tell you, Chely Wright is awesome.”

Wright and Judy Seale — the director of Stars for Stripes, which is footing the bill for Wright’s transportation, airfare and lodging — are staying in the Ray Barracks guest house. They will eat in the dining facility.

The most notable thing missing from the reception will be carnival rides, “but MWR is providing enough distractions for the kids that they’re going to have a great time,” MacFarland said.

MWR is providing an inflatable jumping castle, novelty sumo wrestling suits and face painting for the children. Local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have volunteered their time to help supervise while a gymnastics team from the Giessen Middle and High Schools entertains them.

“Soldiers, I think will feel properly welcomed home,” MacFarland said.

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