JULY 12, 2009

G.I. Go, Mayor Booker Join Gov. Corzine to Honor Returning NJ Iraq Veterans

At the arena, Mayor Booker and other dignitaries recognized the troops and their families.

NEWARK, NJ - Mayor Cory A. Booker joined Governor Jon S. Corzine, Adjutant General Glenn K. Rieth, GI Go Fund Executive Director Jack Fanous, and many other State dignitaries to welcome home more than 2,900 New Jersey National Guardsmen of the 50th Infantry Brigade Combat Team who are returning from a 10-month deployment in Iraq during a parade, ceremony and a star-studded show for the troops’ families in Trenton, today. Marching bands from Ewing, Paterson, Trenton, and Newark joined the soldiers for the 1.1-mile parade route from the New Jersey World War II Memorial to the Sovereign Bank Arena.

At the arena, Mayor Booker and other dignitaries recognized the troops and their families. The troops and their families were also entertained by a USO show, which featured stars like comedian Joe Piscopo, Broadway “Phantom of the Opera” star Mary D’Arcy, American Idol finalist Melinda Doolittle, Patti La Belle vocalist and Trenton native Sarah Dash, and R&B artist Charij.

In his remarks, Mayor Booker highlighted the achievements of 150 Newark residents who served with the 50th Brigade in Iraq, and also remembered the Newark residents who have fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan: Joel Perez, Humberto Timoteo, Yoe Manuel Aneiros, and Joe Baines.

“You in the 50th are letting the Liberty Bell ring louder than ever before. You in the 50th are making the Torch of Liberty off the coast of New Jersey shine brighter than ever before,” said Mayor Booker. “With open arms, and strong hearts, all of New Jersey is coming together today to tell you that you have not returned home alone. We celebrate you and your families, and continue to bless you, the great State of New Jersey, and America.”

“Today, we are proud to welcome home our heroes one and all,” Governor Corzine said. “You have served our state and our nation with dignity, with honor, and with courage. We can only imagine the adversity you faced and the conditions that made your jobs even more difficult. On behalf of all New Jersey’s citizens, we thank you for your patriotism and service and we honor the sacrifices of your families. We are fortunate that you have all returned home safely.”

The 50th Infantry Brigade Combat team conducted detainee operations in Iraq, as well as convoy security, force protection, and operated in an Area Support Group. Many of its members were making their second and third tours of duty in Iraq when the brigade group deployed.

Newark residents who served in Iraq and marched in the parade included Sgt. 1st Class Patricia Jenkins-Ward, returning from her second deployment to Iraq. She is a grandmother who decided to return to Iraq, “for a simple reason: to give support to the younger Soldiers who have never been there,” she said. She added that the other men and women in her unit call her “Mama Jenkins.”

Another veteran Newark warrior in the parade was Chief Warrant Officer Dario Marchena, whose civilian job is as a Newark Police Officer, flying a helicopter with the Aviation Unit. A former Marine, he joined the National Guard in 1997 and the Newark Police Department in 1998. CWO Marchena served from January 2006 to February 2007 in Afghanistan as an embedded technical trainer to the Afghan National Army. He also served as the first team chief assisting the Afghanistan Police Force in 15 western Afghanistan districts, teaching police tactics, techniques, and procedure. He was awarded the Bronze Star for valor and the New Jersey Distinguished Service Medal.

At the other end of the age spectrum marched Pvt. Antanacio Guzman, a high school dropout before he volunteered to serve in the New Jersey National Guard. “I wanted to have a feeling of belonging and to feel I was needed,” he said. “I have found this as a proud member of the 50th Infantry. This is my family.”

The Newark contribution to the marching bands came from Malcolm X Shabazz High School, under Director of Bands Hassan Williams, himself a former Army paratrooper, who holds a Master Parachutist’s Badge, and served in the 82nd Airborne Division from 1970 to 1975. There he became the first African-American to serve with the division’s Adjutant General’s Office. Director Williams’ father was a career Army man, serving for 28 years, seeing action in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam and his son is continuing the family military tradition, serving as an Air Force meteorologist who has made two deployments to Iraq and one to Afghanistan.

“As a retired 82nd Airborne Division officer, it’s a great pleasure for the band and I to perform for these brave men that are coming back from Iraq. This is one of the greatest opportunities we’ve had to serve our city and our country. We’ve participated in many parades and governmental functions in and out of New Jersey, but this is the highest honor that’s been bestowed on us,” Director Williams said.

East Ward resident Tasha Drouet and her two children, eight-year-old daughter Resha and two-year-old son Elijah, welcomed their husband and father Army Specialist Xavier Drouet home from his first tour in Iraq at the parade and concert. “It was so hard when he left. The kids missed him so much, and we’re so excited he’s home! It’s awesome that they are welcoming our troops back with such a grand event,” Mrs. Drouet said.

GI Go Fund Executive Director Jack Fanous also thanked the veterans for their service, saying, “You and your families have given and sacrificed so much. We at the GI Go Center are ready to help you get the benefits and thanks from a grateful nation that you deserve.”