CONCORD - They'll be home for Christmas. And thanks to their life-saving efforts, so will other families' loved ones.
Politicians, military leaders, relatives and friends honored members of the New Hampshire Army National Guard's 169th Medevac detachment at a "Freedom Salute" ceremony Saturday.
The 19 soldiers of the 169th's Fox Company deployed to Afghanistan last fall, joining Guardsmen from New York, Pennsylvania and Missouri to form a unit dubbed "Jigsaw." They flew 471 missions and transported 527 patients.
"Because of you, there are mothers and fathers reunited with the children they sent to war," Gov. Maggie Hassan told the guardsmen. "Because of you, there are children who get to grow up with their mothers and fathers."
About 300 people attended the ceremony, including all four members of the congressional delegation and dozens of guardsmen in camouflage uniforms.
Wanda Lavoie of Raymond was there to honor her son, Sgt. Drew Case of Franklin, a crew chief with the 169th. She was glad to see the state hold an official welcome ceremony.
"It just shows that we're here to support them," she said. "We've got their backs."
Maj. Gen William Reddel, adjutant general of the National Guard, thanked the families for their support and sacrifice. "We can't do it without you," he said.
And he commended the soldiers' life-saving work in Afghanistan. "Timing is everything. Speed is life. And because of their efforts, many of our warriors are alive today," he said.Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., noted that Saturday was the 72nd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. She recalled the service members who rushed to the burning ships and planes to help their comrades that day.
"Certainly, you represent that tradition and the best America has to offer," she said. "Whenever the country calls, you are always there, and we thank you for that."Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., also thanked the soldiers for their life-saving work.
"And we know that there are so many families out there right now that are grateful for what you did in Afghanistan. ... To know their loved ones will be able to spend Christmas with them because of the members of our Guard and Jigsaw, all of them working together to save lives."
Guard chaplain Maj. Steven Veinotte offered a prayer of thanksgiving for the safe return of the soldiers. "Part of us was missing; now it's been restored," he said.
And Brig. Gen. Craig Bennett, commander of the N.H. Army National Guard, reminded all that there are still guardsmen serving overseas as Christmas approaches. "Please keep them and their families in your prayers," he said.