Peekskill resident Mario Orlando misses the camaraderie and relationships he built with his buddies in the New York Army National Guard Soldiers‘ 69th Infantry Regiment.
Still, it doesn’t compare to the feeling of being welcomed back home.
“It’s good to know that family and friends are still there and that life still goes on when you’re overseas, protecting the freedom of your friends and family,” Orlando said Sunday. “To come back and see they're safe and that you did your job over there makes it all worth it.”
Orlando is one of more than 100 members of the 69th Infantry who were honored during a Freedom Salute Ceremony at the state armory in Peekskill Sunday. The unit was mobilized a year ago and deployed as part of the 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry Task Force for duties in Afghanistan as part of operation “Task Force Iron.”
Task Force Iron is an infantry battalion task force from the New York Army National Guard composed of units from across New York State with the mission of enhancing the capability of the Afghan National Security Forces to secure Highway One in from Herat City to Nimroz Province in western Afghanistan.
Members of the 69th Infantry come from as far south Brooklyn and as far north as Leeds, Greene County.
The majority of the soldiers who served on the task force returned to the United States in September 2012.
The Freedom Salute Campaign, which was started in 2003 by the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C., is a nationwide campaign organized to thank members of the Army National Guard for their service and thank their spouses, children and employers for their support.
“For all the families sitting out there, thank you for loaning us your soldier for the last year,” said Capt. Matthew Kilgore said during the ceremony. “I’m glad that I could bring him back to you, first of all. And thank you for the support that you’ve given us and your soldier over the last year.”
Several military commendations were also handed out during the ceremony, including Purple Hearts, Bronze Stars and Army Commendation medals.
“I received an Army Commendation medal for being recognized overseas in the call of duty and it was worth it,” Orlando said. “I have something to show for it.”