Welcome Home Troops!


Bulldogs Among The First To Greet Soldiers Back From Iraq

The Ferris State University football squad took a break from its rigorous 2007 preseason camp schedule Friday (Aug. 17) to help welcome home and honor a unit which recently finished serving a much greater purpose.

Welcome Back!
Welcome Home Troops!
Welcome Back Troops!
Welcome Home Troops!
Local national guard soldiers were welcomed home by the Bulldog football team, including head coach Jeff Pierce (middle photo)
The Bulldog players and coaching staff were among the first to greet three buses full of local national guard members, who returned home from a 14-month tour of duty in Iraq. After the second of two practice sessions Friday, the Ferris players, coaches and staff helped form a human tunnel as the 148 members of the 125th Infantry Battalion of E Company came off the bus in Mecosta County and entered FSU's Jim Wink Arena, where a large celebration was held in front of family and friends before a near capacity crowd of 1,900 people.

Hundreds of other people lined the streets of Big Rapids and entrances to the facility to welcome the unit home.

"It was so important for our guys to be a part of this experience and welcome the troops home," said FSU head coach Jeff Pierce. "It really helps make our players realize what life is about and the reality of what the soldiers went through over there.

"It was an emotional day for so many people and it helps bring you back to reality."

Pierce and other members of his coaching staff shook the hands of each soldier as they came off the bus to thunderous applause. The unit was welcomed inside the gymnasium for their sacrifices by respective senior national guard officers and a short presentation was held before the soldiers were dismissed and loved ones rushed the floor.

"This is great to have so many of these guys back," said FSU offensive coordinator Matt McCarthy. "What we do, as far as football and sports are concerned, is so insignificant when you compare it to what these guys have been doing for our country and our world.

"When you think of everything these troops have done for us, and the sacrifices that so many of them have made, this really is the least that we can do to try and give something back," he added.

The unit flew into Grand Rapids' Gerald R. Ford International Airport and was bused to Wink Arena. Hundreds of Patriot Guard motorcycle riders and a police escort accompanied the troops home from the airport.

While in Iraq, the Big Rapids based unit earned several honors and fought valiantly, according to Major General Thomas G. Cutler, commander in chief of the Michigan National Guard, who spoke during the brief welcome-home ceremony. The unit was recognized as the best company in their brigade, which included more than 3,500 soldiers. Additionally, they captured and killed more terrorists than anyone in the battalion and seized the most weapons caches.

During the unit's deployment, four members of the Echo Company were lost in the conflict. Those four members were all remembered during the ceremony inside Wink Arena.

"It's a blessing to have so many of them come back safe and to be able to be back with their friends and families," said FSU junior tailback Leonard Curry. "They were out there fighting for us and some of them weren't able to come back.

"It felt special, for us, to be able to come out and show our support for them even though we didn't know a lot of these guys. Our football team was among the first to help welcome them back to Big Rapids and that's something special and means a lot," Curry added.

Note: Photos and selected information courtesy of Big Rapids Pioneer sports writer Sandy Gholston and Matt Yeoman of FSU Photographic Services.

FSU Home Sports Football Search