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KITZINGEN, Germany — With an ounce of pomp and gallon of partying, 1st Infantry Division communities Friday began a series of welcome-home extravaganzas for Big Red One troops back from a grueling tour in Iraq.
Thousands of soldiers, family members and friends filled two enormous festival tents on the airfield at Kitzingen’s Harvey Barracks, eating mountains of free hamburgers, bratwurst, ribs and chicken wings while drinking free sodas, free local wine (courtesy of nearby German communities) and $3 beers. German and American bands — headlined by pop star Richard Marx — rocked the tents on three alternate stages all afternoon and evening.
Outside, children and grown-ups lined up for fair-style carnival rides and games while magicians wandered around entertaining the crowd. Blue skies and temperatures in the 70s warmed the festivities.
A 20-minute fireworks show capped the eight- hour celebration.
The lavish celebration — sponsored by the Kitzingen-based 417th Base Support Battalion — awed some of the guests of honor.
“I went to Bosnia and Kosovo. When we came back, it wasn’t anything like this,” said Staff Sgt. Richard Flint, 28, of the 4th Battalion, 3rd Air Defense Artillery’s D Battery.
“It’s really spectacular,” said Spc. Derek Schmidt, 23, of the 101st Military Intelligence Battalion. “They put all this on for us?”
Before the party, some 4,500 people gathered in newly erected grandstands for a German-American ceremony welcoming home the Kitzingen-based troops and honoring more than 30 Army spouses for volunteer work during the deployment.
Maj. Gen. John Batiste, the division commander, noted the accomplishments of each deployed unit — the Division Support Command, 701st Main Support Battalion, 121st Signal Battalion, and the 4/3 ADA — as well as the family readiness groups, the 417th BSB, and the division’s rear detachments.
Col. Paul Wentz, the DISCOM commander, noted the sacrifices of the five Kitzingen-based soldiers who died in Iraq and the 23 troops who were injured. He accepted the return of a yellow-ribbon quilt he and his wife, Eliane, had presented to Kitzingen’s Lord Mayor Tamara Bischof before the units left for Iraq. It had been hanging in the district government building.
“The best part of the yellow-ribbon tradition is when you take it down,” Wentz said.
Lt. Col. Thomas Fass, the 417th BSB commander, said between 7,000 and 8,000 people attended the celebration, the first of five regional welcome-home parties planned in 1st ID communities. Others are scheduled for April 28 in Bamberg, April 29 in Katterbach, May 4 in Vilseck and May 6 in Schweinfurt. A giant division-wide event will be held May 16, also in Kitzingen.
“We didn’t think [the party] would be of this size and magnitude,” said Sgt. Gregory Magnon, 42, of the 4/3 ADA. “They really went all out for us.”