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Soldiers return to area from war, show National Guard equipment to public

Six area soldiers have returned from the war in Iraq.

Their lives forever changed by the war-torn events they've seen.

Earlier this year, the soldiers, all members of the U.S. National Guard Army's 1st 214th B Battery from Thomson, resumed their normal duties with fellow soldiers there.

The war veterans included: Spc. Wesley Willingham, of Thomson; Sgt. Ronnie Sellers, of Gibson; Spc. David Tompkins, of Gibson; Sgt. Adrian Trent, of Augusta; Spc. David Barker, of Augusta; and Sgt. Gary Heffner, of Augusta.

This past Saturday, the six soldiers gathered with others at a ball field on the campus of Thomson Middle School to show the public some of the equipment used in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sgt. Ronnie Sellers, who has been a member of the local National Guard Unit for several years, showed the equipment off to a special person in his life - his mother, Annette Key, who lives in Thomson.

Sgt. Sellers explained to Mrs. Key how the Palidan Howitzer works.

"It resembles a tank, but it isn't," said Sgt. Sellers, whose fulltime job is as a lieutenant with the Warrenton Police Department - a job he has had for the past 10 1/2 years.

Sgt. Sellers recently served 18 months in Iraq. It marked his second deployment with the National Guard since the war began following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York. He also was deployed for 12 months to Fort Bragg, N.C. for special assignment with U.S. Homeland Security.

Two of the six soldiers who have returned from Iraq had been in the military and were out, but rejoined after the twin trade towers were destroyed by terrorists, claiming the lives of 2,750 persons.

It was one of the worst American tragedies ever.

Sgt. Heffner was one of the soldiers who felt the need to return to the military following 9-11, which was remembered Tuesday as the sixth anniversary of the tragedy.

"I was in the U.S. Army for four years - from 1972-1976 and then was with the National Guard in Michigan from 1982-1984," Sgt. Heffner recalled. "9-11 is what made me go back in. I felt like I had to do my part to help my country, again."

Spec. Barker, who works as a computer technician at Blue Print in Augusta, is another one of the soldiers who rejoined the military after 9-11.

"I felt like I had to do something when I saw what the terrorists did in New York and how many people they killed," Spec. Barker said.

As for Spec. Willingham, who served four years with the U.S. Marines as a military police officer, he feels it his responsibility to serve his country.

"This is what I do, because I want to be of service to my country," Spec. Willingham said.

Web posted on Thursday, September 13, 2007

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