Families, friends, and community members greeted military police soldiers who returned from a nine-month deployment at Naval Station Guantánamo Bay in Cuba on Friday in Belton.
The “Welcome Home” ceremony for soldiers of the 603rd Military Police Company, which is based in Belton, took place at the U.S. Army Reserve Center. Of the units more than 100 soldiers, about half attended Friday’s ceremony.
During their deployment, the U.S. Army Reserve said in a news release that the soldiers were responsible for providing care and custody of detainees at Guantánamo. As of Sept. 18, the Miami Herald reported that Guantánamo holds 41 detainees.
The unit’s commander, Capt. Mandy Coy, said at the ceremony that she considered the mission at Guantánamo to be a success.
“I can tell you with complete honesty that they not only completed the mission, but they set a new standard for what the mission should look like,” Coy said. “We went over there to do a very difficult mission, detainee ops. It’s more psychologically demanding. ... The mission that we had has a strategic impact, not only just for the United States Army, but worldwide.”
For some among the returning group of soldiers, such as Spc. Isaac Salas, the Kansas City area is home. Salas spent time after Friday’s ceremony embracing family members who surrounded him.
Other soldiers, like Spc. Jennifer Hodges, joined the unit a few years ago from Lake of the Ozarks.
Hodges, 26, was with her parents Friday following the ceremony. The three were planning a trip to Culver’s in nearby Raymore, a family tradition following deployments.
“It was almost hard to leave for me because it was a beautiful island and a beautiful place,” Hodges said of her time in Guantánamo Bay. “I made so many great friends and great memories over there.”
Now, Hodges plans to move to Denver and go to school to become a veterinary technician, noting she has always wanted to serve her country as well as help animals.
“I just have a lot to do,” Hodges said. “I’m honestly just waiting for the next deployment to roll around and to do it again.”
During the ceremony Friday, soldiers and families also heard brief remarks of gratitude by a spokesman from U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler’s office and Belton Mayor Jeff Davis.
“I have to tell you, on behalf of the city of Belton, on behalf of the council and all of our city departments, how proud we are that this group is in our city,” Davis said. “You don’t know what affect that has on our community. It makes my wife sleep a lot better knowing that you’re here and there, wherever you are, and that includes the both of us.”