'It has been an ordeal'
Families welcome 730th Quartermaster back home

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

GRAY -- Janet Conroy held a single flower.
   She waited in the humid Saturday afternoon to welcome her husband SSgt. Douglas Conroy and the Tennessee Army National Guard 730th Quartermaster Company back to Northeast Tennessee after months in the deserts of the Middle East.
   "It has been an ordeal," said Conroy who along with her sister's family were among the hundreds of friends that welcomed soldiers back to Northeast Tennessee.
   The 730th Quartermaster Company returned home here Saturday afternoon after six months of supplying U.S. military forces that liberated Iraq from the rule of Saddam Hussein. The approximately 110 members of the 730th flew into Fort Campbell, Ky., last weekend and spent the past week preparing to return home to the 176th Maintenance Battalion stationed in Gray.
   The company flew into the Tri-Cities Regional Airport shortly before 3 p.m. on a C-141 Transport from Fort Campbell. Scores of citizens lined the return route from I-181 to the Gray armory waving American flags and yellow ribbons.
   A Johnson City Police convoy of two buses arrived at the National Guard Armory in Gray just after 4 p.m. Troops clad in khaki desert fatigues and most looking slim and tanned by the desert sun, disembarked while family and friends cheered wildly and shouted greetings.
   Elizabethton Deputy Police Chief Larry Shell and his wife were on hand to welcome daughter April home. "We did get to see her at Fort Campbell and got to spend a few hours with her," said Shell. "It's a great relief."
   Welcome home signs ranging from children's fingerprints red, white and blue to photographs of soldiers and loved ones adorned the walls inside the armory.
   The Conroys moved to Charlotte, N.C., from Johnson City but Doug Conroy remained with the 730th. Janet Conroy said she talked with her husband by telephone on a few occasions while he was in country although the conversations were brief. She said her husband was one of 10 unit members who journeyed all the way to Baghdad to support troops during combat and occupation.
   Like many Americans, Janet said she had stayed glued to cable news networks during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and subsequent occupation.
   "I've taped about six or eight VCR tapes because I knew all he was seeing was what he saw from the truck," she said. "I watched it when the bombing started and watched it without going to bed."
   Of course, not everyone could withstand seeing the war televised with loved ones possibly on or near the front lines.
   "We stopped watching the news," said Monica Shores, whose husband Michael returned home to her and his daughter, Theresa. A former army medic herself, Shores said she met her husband while both were in the military. "When we met, he was a supply sergeant and he's always been good at knowing what was needed and how to get it," she said.
   Shores said the absence of her husband had made for some tough times at home. Little contact also created emotional loss.
   "We'd send letters and it wouldn't get there for two or three months later," she said.
   The 730th rotated back to the states along with the 46th Engineers, Company C from Paris last week. "Charlie" Company, 46th Engineers returned to Fort Polk, La., on July 4th and the 730th Quartermaster Company arrived at Fort Campbell on July 5. Many family members visited soldiers during the past week.
   The 730th Quartermaster departed Gray on Jan. 21, 2003, and provided support for 3rd Infantry Division that drove deep into Iraq during the early days of the U.S.-led liberation of Iraq. Among their duties, the 730th was responsible for feeding tens of thousands of troops, providing water and refueling a variety of army vehicles.
   More than 138,000 personnel are on active duty in support of the partial mobilization of Army National Guard and Reserves, according to the Department of Defense. Total Reserve and National Guard soldiers on active duty as of July 9 stands at 204,100, including both units and individual augmentees, according to DoD.
   While serving in a support capacity, supply soldiers have frequently been in the line of fire during the U.S.-led liberation of Iraq. More than 70 American soldiers have been killed since President Bush announced an end to armed conflict on May 1.
   Sgt. Roger Dale Rowe of Bon Aqua, Tenn., became the first Tennessee Army National Guard member killed in Iraq last week. Rowe was killed on July 9 when Iraqi gunmen south of Baghdad ambushed his military convoy. Rowe, a 17-year veteran, was a member of Detachment 1,771st Maintenance Company in Hohenwald, but was serving in Iraq with the 1174th Transportation Company from Dresden and Newbern, according to the Tennessee Army National Guard.
   "You are never safe. They turned in all their equipment in Kuwait, but they kept their weapons," said Janet Conroy. "I didn't stop worrying until that plane landed at Fort Campbell."