Cheryl and Terry Blaskowski can’t welcome home their son, but they at least can work to welcome home his warrior brothers, they say.

The Cheboygan, Mich., couple are spearheading a drive in the States to raise money for a welcome home event for the soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team — even though Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Dean Blaskowski, killed in September by small-arms fire, won’t be among those returning from Afghanistan.

At first, the couple thought the Army had no plans for an official welcoming ceremony when the soldiers return late this summer, prompting the Blaskowskis to launch the drive. But since learning differently, they and a group of friends and supporters are continuing efforts to raise money, either to be spent in conjunction with the Army’s celebration or to augment the festivities, Cheryl Blaskowski said.

“We want to have a down-home celebration in conjunction with their efforts,” she said. If possible, they’ll be present in Europe to welcome home their son’s comrades.

“In the past, when Matthew left for deployment, the only thing to bring peace in our hearts was to think about his safe return,” Terry Blaskowski wrote in a letter explaining the fundraising efforts. “We know that won’t be happening now. However, Matthew and us have an extended family that reaches far beyond this place.”

The homecoming for the 173rd presents some challenges in that it’s the only split brigade combat team in the Army, with units stationed in Schweinfurt and Bamberg in Germany and Vicenza in Italy, said Lt. Col. Todd Johnston, the 173rd rear detachment commander.

“But we’ll be doing some things to be sure. Now, we still are in the planning stages,” he said.

He’s working details, such as whether to hold a memorial service as part of the official military welcoming home observance. The team has lost 30 soldiers in Afghanistan.

“At the moment, we’re looking at two military ceremonies, one in the north (Germany) and one in the south (Italy), but we may do two in Germany,” he said. “We’d like to do a military ceremony in the morning and family appreciation day in the afternoon.”

The unit is working with the local offices of the United Service Organizations and Morale, Welfare and Recreation to plan the ceremonies, which will take place after the units’ routine 30-day block leave after returning from the combat zone, Johnston said.

The Blaskowskis will forward the money they raise to the unit headquarters in Vicenza. Their news release about the drive states Army rules prohibit any one person or organization from donating more than $1,000 to any single Family Readiness Group, or FRG.

Donations can be made to the unit’s FRG or mailed to Michigan to the Welcome Home Celebration Fund, in care of Terry and Cheryl Blaskowski, P.O. Box 164, Cheboygan, MI 49721.

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