Reservists return from Afghanistan

INDIANA – Members of the 420th Engineering Company (Clearance) were greeted with thunderous applause and tears during a welcome home ceremony on Wednesday at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

The 135 Army Reservists based out of Indiana returned home after a 11-month deployment to Afghanistan.

Family and friends cheered as the soldiers entered the arena and saw their loved ones for the first time in months.

“It doesn’t get easier,” said Mary Crook of Cherry Tree.

Crook and her husband, Dayton, stood in the cold outside of the Memorial Field House anxiously awaiting the arrival of their son, Staff Sgt. James Crook, 38, of Bradenville.

“I cried yesterday,” Mary Crook said. “I prayed for him every day.”

John and Cheryl Fleck of Altoona said it was hard at times to cope with the first overseas deployment of their son, Shea Fleck.

“It was very difficult,” Cheryl Fleck said. “There wasn’t a day that went by that we didn’t think about him.”

Indiana Mayor George Hood stood outside, shaking hands with each soldier as they exited their bus.

“I’m just elated and happy,” Hood said.

Hundreds of individuals gathered at IUP to welcome the Army Reservists home. The troops were ushered inside the basketball arena to see their loved ones as members of the IUP ROTC helped unload and organize the soldiers’ gear.

After being released to their loved ones, the troops and their families embraced on the basketball court for the first time since Thanksgiving, when some of the troops were on leave.

“Those are our babies that are over there,” said Patty Miller, whose son, Sgt. Adam Duraso, served as one of the group’s senior medics.

Miller said she was constantly thinking of her son and anxiously awaited his return to the states.

“First thought in the morning, last thought at night,” Miller said. “If you wake up at night, that’s the thought you have.”

“These guys did it extremely well, and I know you’re very proud of them,” said Capt. John Forte, as he spoke to the crowd.

In addition to dozens of combat medals, 14 Purple Hearts were awarded to the unit, Forte said.

The soldiers completed 480 missions over the past 10 months, which equates to about one and a half missions per day, Forte said.

About 70 percent of the soldiers in the unit saw combat, he said.

Linda Cassarly of Altoona said a slight paperwork error forced her to drive to Philadelphia to pick up her son, Sgt. Peter Cassarly.

“I feel very humbled and blessed that he and the whole unit have come home … it was a very good year,” she said. “I would have gone to the Afghan airport if I had to. I think that they deserve the recognition of coming home.”

For Sgt. Adam Duraso, who worked as a medic in addition to serving in combat, adjusting to life at home and not having to worry about his phone constantly going off was a relief.

Does it feel good to be home?

“Beyond,” Duraso said.