Ember Davis is the assistant director of the Events, Protocol & Design department at Columbia College. She shared these words and photos of her experience at the event. Some of the photos were taken from her bird's-eye view in St. Clair Hall. Scroll to the bottom for more of her photos.
When I began working for Columbia College over a year ago, the strong relationship we as an institution have with all branches of the military was immediately clear to me. Not only are 18 of Columbia College's campuses located on bases, but our online program allows men and women in the military, whether they are moving to a new location in the U.S. or even if they are active duty, to further their education with minimal interruption.
Shortly after I began working in the events office here, we hosted a departure ceremony for the 175th Military Police Battalion as they prepared for deployment. It was a very moving but difficult ceremony, which ended in the families seeing their loved ones off in our Southwell Arena.
I remember the moving presentation of the flags to deploying troops. The oldest deploying soldier, a seasoned war veteran, was presented the U.S. flag to fly when he arrived in Qatar, and the youngest in the battalion was presented the Missouri state flag to proudly wave there as well. Both charges were returned by their temporary guardians happily today, which connected the two simple ceremonies together.
The college's main points of contact were Major Lindsey Decker and Captain Jakin Waldock, both of whom happen to be Columbia College alumni. Captain Waldock, who is moving to Washington with the Army, spent his last day in Columbia welcoming home troops as emcee. Major Decker was in contact with the group as they went through medical evaluations and reintegration processes before arriving via bus this morning. She welcomed home her sister today at Columbia College.
We also met briefly with Debra Hickam, who led the motorcade from Kingdom City with 60 other Patriot Guard riders. It made for quite an entrance. On Friday, she could hardly contain her excitement for their involvement in the homecoming ceremony. She repeated, "We just live for this stuff." Of all the events they participate in to show their support for our military, welcoming home troops is by far the most "fun."
After the Adjutant General of the Missouri National Guard, Major General Stephen L. Danner, gave the final order to dismiss, the troops were bombarded with loved ones. We saw (new) babies meet their daddies for what was likely the first time, then daddies who kept holding tight and rocking their children like they would never let go. The banners, signs (including a larger-than-life photo of a returning soldier), and customized clothing all expressed a similar sentiment: "My (loved one) comes home today!"
Because the precise time of the ceremony can take some time to clarify, we were not sure when to expect the arrival until about Thursday. It was an honor to be a part of the welcoming process — a phrase I heard all over campus this morning.
When Columbia College President Dr. Gerald T. Brouder, himself a veteran, was asked earlier this week what his schedule was like over the weekend, (Major Decker expressed interest in asking him to provide brief remarks at the ceremony) his reply was definite and precisely the attitude his tenure as president has spread throughout the campus community: "Just tell me when. Of course I will be there."
At Columbia College, our designation of "Military Friendly" is taken to heart. Among the hundreds of loved ones gathered today were Columbia Ccollege administrators, faculty, staff and alumni who are committed to the service members of the U.S. Military.
(Scroll down for more of Ember Davis's photos, or click to see them all at Flickr.com.)
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