Crowds cheered as members of the 196th Transportation Company of the Army Reserve arrived home from Iraq. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

ORLANDO – It would be hard to imagine a more exciting Christmas present for so many local families, as 115 Army Reservists from Central Florida arrived home this morning, to a rousing welcome by their wives, parents, children, friends and supporters.
It was literally a hero’s welcome as a charter flight arrived at Orlando International Airport, and then buses transported the warriors to the Armed Forces Reserve Center. Arriving there were the members of the 196th Transportation Company of the Army Reserve, which had been overseas in support of Operation New Dawn, driving heavy equipment out of Iraq.
On Thursday, supporters of the soldiers did everything they could to get the word out that they were coming home, and encouraged a huge turnout to welcome them when they got here. They got that crowd.
“Bring your flags and cheer these troops home to their families,” wrote Cathy Haynes, a member and supporter of numerous veterans and military organizations, in an email blast send to families and friends of the soldiers. “This group practically turned out the lights and shut the door upon their leaving! They helped in closing of eight Forward Operating Bases. They drove over 350,000 collective miles. They maintained 65 truck systems and hauled 200 million worth of cargo.”

Crowds gathered early at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in Orlando to welcome home the soldiers. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

The crowd lined up where three Trailways buses would be arriving, with an Orange County Fire Rescue truck and motorcycle escort from the airport charter facility. As the soldiers got off the buses, the crowd went wild with enthusiasm, waving American flags, and carrying banners that read “Welcome Home!” Young children cried out “Daddy!” and two women sang the “Star Spangled Banner” to the soldiers.  As the soldiers marched inside the Armed Forces Reserve Center, the crowd chanted “USA, USA, USA!”
Inside the building, a banner announced “Welcome Home 196th TC” at the entrance to the auditorium, where Luis R. Visot, the commanding general of the 377th Theater Sustainment Command, promised a very brief ceremony – at which point he would allow the soldiers and their loved ones to happily, and emotionally, reunite.

The public turned out to support the 115 Army Reservists who were coming home for the holidays. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

Knowing how badly the families and wives wanted to reach out and hug their soldier, Visot promised not to drag out the ceremony, and even joked, “We value our lives.“
Instead, he promised the families, “We’re going to make this short and sweet. Thank you very much. We truly appreciate the support we get from you.”
Then Visot turned to the soldiers.
“Our strength is the U.S. Army,” he said. “Let’s give them a hand.”
The crowd did, applauding loudly.
“We also say that the strength of the soldier is the family,” Visot said. “These great American heroes that we have behind us could not have accomplished what they did this year without your support. I’m going to give our soldiers two messages, so listen up. First, welcome home.”
Then he urged them to look out for, and reach out to, their colleagues in the Armed Services this holiday season.
“More importantly,” he added, “You have a responsibility to one another. Everybody’s got a buddy, right? Call them up.”
Finally, Visot concluded by reminding everyone in the auditorium of how important it was to reunite families during the holidays.
“Let me wish each and every one of you a very merry Christmas, a happy Hanukkah, and a happy Kwanzaa,” he said. “Thank you for what you’re doing.”

Family members look on with excitement as the 115 Army Reservists with the 196th Transportation Company march into the Armed Forces Reserve Center. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

Then he stepped back, and let the soldiers find their wives, parents and children, in what quickly became a very eye-watering moment throughout the entire auditorium.
The 196th Transportation Company originated as the 103rd Port Marine Maintenance Company. On Jan. 22, 1944, the 103rd Port constituted in the U.S. Army during World War II. In 1948, the 103rd Port was reactivated as an Army Reserve Unit and re-designated as the 196th Transportation Port Company. Their first home station was in Youngstown, Ohio.
During January 2009, the 196th was activated for 90 days in support of victims of the Haitian earthquake disaster, transporting nearly 300,000 pounds of food and medical supplies from St. Lucie International Airport to Opa-Locka Airport in Miami-Dade County.
From August to December this year, the 196th was deployed to Iraq, supporting redeployment and sustainment efforts there.

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