Saturday was a day of celebration and relaxation for returning soldiers, their families, and the community members who gathered in Fifth Street Park to support them.
Devil Brigade is officially back from a nine-month deployment in Europe and Saturday afternoon the Military Affairs Council invited them and everyone who cares about them to a block party in their honor.
PFC Guillermo Ahumada brought his wife, Lonia Aghakian, and their one-year-old daughter Navianna to the event, where they enjoyed activities and park equipment.
Ahumada recently returned from his first deployment
“I am ecstatic,” Aghakian said. “I feel relief because he’s been gone a while and now he’s finally back with his daughter, as well. And so I’m just really happy and my heart is full.”
Ahumada is expected to remain home for the next nine months.
He said he was adjusting well to his return from overseas, enjoying time with his wife and young daughter.
“We just took back up where we left off,” Ahumada said.
First Lt. Mitch Gall returned three days ago.
“It was a long trip back, but I’m glad to be home, he said.
Gall attended the event with loved ones and was glad to see the support offered members of his brigade.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for the soldiers that are returning,” he said.
Among other things, the soldiers in attendance were able to receive a steak free-of-charge from the All-American Beef Battalion.
This organization is the brainchild of Col. (Ret.) Bill Broadie, a Vietnam veteran of the Marines, who was present at the block party to help welcome the soldiers home.
Volunteers planned to feed 500 adults and 300 children with a menu that included hot dogs, steaks, and a variety of fixings.
“It’s great,” he said of the turnout. “I just hope these kids enjoy it.”
In almost 12 years, more than 500,000 soldiers in 26 states have received steaks compliments of the All-American Beef Battalion.
Broadie started the organization out of a concern that soldiers were going to be treated the way he and his fellow military members had been treated during the Vietnam War.
“I didn’t want to see that happen again,” he said.
It would have been good, he said, if he’d been able to receive a welcome such as soldiers received Saturday in Junction City.
“I just want these people to know how much we appreciate what they do for us,” Broadie said.
Broadie, who works in the beef industry feels if he can have a good steak dinner waiting for soldiers, it may make them feel more welcome when they return from overseas.
“One general told me, as long as Vietnam veterans are alive, no troops will ever get treated like that again,” Broadie said.
If he has his way, this will continue to hold true.
“It’s just a small thing we can do for them,” he said.
Sgt. Kahari Smith was not among those deployed to Europe — he has only been at Fort Riley for two weeks — but he attended the party Saturday to support his fellow soldiers.
He brought his son to the park and the two of them made a day of it.
“(It’s a) good atmosphere for my son,” Smith said of the event.
While Junction City is extremely different from his home in Jacksonville, Florida, he likes the friendliness of the people.
“It’s going to take a little bit longer to get used to it,” Smith said. “The people are pretty friendly here.”
City Commissioner Phyllis Fitzgerald was one of many locals who attended the event to greet the returning soldiers. She said she thought the turnout was wonderful.
“We’re all here for a common cause, and that’s to welcome these soldiers home and to thank their families for choosing to serve our country,” she said.