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Guardsmen visit GE after returning home from war

by Scott Neuffer
sneuffer@recordcourier.com

Recently returned from the battlefields of Afghanistan, two high-ranking soldiers made the long trip from Las Vegas to Carson Valley on Thursday to simply give thanks.

Nevada Army National Guard Lt. Col. Scott Cunningham and Sgt. Maj. Jim Richardson, both of the 1/221st Cavalry Wildhorse Squadron, visited the GE Energy Plant in Minden to recognize the company for their continuous support of U.S. troops overseas, specifically Nevada guardsmen.

“It makes you feel good inside knowing that you’re fighting for a country with people like this, whether they agree with the war or not,” said Cunningham, commander of the squadron.

For seven years, GE Energy has coordinated the production, packaging and delivery of hundreds of holiday care packages for U.S. military personnel stationed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait.

Last year, with the help of the Blue Star Moms, the company sent packages to every Nevada National Guard soldier in the Middle East, more than 700.

“It’s just part of our nature and culture to support these guys who are over there fighting to support our country,” said GE Spokesperson Lee Bonner. “We have employees across the U.S. who are part of the National Guard, and GE supports them.”

Cunningham described the Guard as the “ultimate citizen soldier organization.” When the call to war comes, he said, neighbors, friends and others in the community “start doing their second job of being a soldier.”

“Counterinsurgency is a marathon, not a sprint,” Cunningham said of the Afghan war effort. “There are surface difficulties, but there is also progress. Afghanistan is different now than when we went in 2001.”

The soldiers returned in March after about nine months in the Laghman Province where they performed security operations and facilitated reconstruction efforts.

“We were basically in charge of the entire province,” Cunningham said. “We recognize that we had a hold-pattern in the country for six years while we worked out Iraq. But what Iraq showed us is that no matter how bad it looks, we can win the battle.”

Cunningham said Afghanistan is going to be a long, difficult battle, but he believes that coalition forces have the support of the Afghan people.

It also helps to have the support of the American people. When soldiers deploy to the theater, he said, they enter a harsh, austere environment. He said care packages from home have a two-fold effect: the physical amenities provided, and the gesture itself that reminds soldiers they’re not alone.

“That’s what’s truly important,” Cunningham told GE employees. “That you would take the time to send these over matters. All that you did was noticed and recognized by the soldiers.”

“There were literally hundreds of boxes stuffed in our mailroom,” added Richardson. “It was a great thing, just a gesture of generosity.”

The soldiers presented GE employees with their deployment coins and an American flag that was flown over their base in Mehtar Lam. They also made Nevada Guard Lt. Col. Mike Hanifan, a GE engineer, an honorary member of the Wildhorse Squadron for his involvement with the care packages.

“These are soldiers from the community,” Cunningham said. “We wanted to come up to make sure they get recognized.”

GE tool designer Larry Auchoberry, along with coworker Mike Davis, started the holiday drive seven years ago.

“They made it worthwhile right there,” Auchoberry said. “Just to know it’s appreciated makes it that much better.”