Springfield man meets his daughter as Guard unit returns from Gitmo

Ohio National Guard members from across the Miami Valley returned home after an 11-month deployment in Cuba on Thursday, including a Springfield man who saw his daughter for the first time.

Matthew Ahrens, of Springfield, was among the 130 members of the 324th Military Police Company who returned to a packed gym at Franklin High School. The Middletown-based unit served at Guantanamo Bay, the third time the unit deployed in recent years.

Ahrens was greeted by his wife Virginia, and saw his daughter, Tisa, for the first time. He wasn’t the only soldier who deployed having never seen his child. This was the third time the unit has deployed in recent years.

Spc. Josiah Erick was deployed days before his daughter’s birth and said it was amazing to come home.

“I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time,” he said holding his young daughter.

Another soldier, Pfc. Dakota Bailey, said the welcoming was after being away from his family for a long time.

“It means our community supports us and their behind us 100 percent,” he said.

Several members were former Franklin football players and a band member. Sgt. Matt Middleton was welcomed as he was surrounded by the Franklin football team wearing their jerseys before returning to their morning practice.

The soldiers arrived at 5 a.m. at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport before boarding buses with escorts by the Kentucky State Police, Cincinnati Police and the Ohio State Highway Patrol. The buses arrived at the high school just before 8 a.m.

After an hour of seeing their families and loved ones and a short briefing, they filed into the school’s auditorium for the official ceremony. Most of the nearly 900 seats were full.

Capt. Kimberly Snow, 324th commanding officer, thanked the community and the “awesome 324” for their service and professionalism during their deployment. She also apologized to families about the length of time it took to demobilize at Fort Bliss, Texas, which delayed their return.

She said “this was not a normal mission.”

“There is nothing normal about Gitmo at all,” Snow said. “Going to Gitmo is like living in a fishbowl for nine months.”

She said the 324th Military Police Company “represented the state and this station with honor.”

“These soldiers demonstrated their professionalism and maturity, day after day, week after week, and month after month on duty and off,” she said. “… Because of you I’m a better leader, a better person and I am so proud to have been your commanding officer.”

Maj. Gen. John Harris Jr., assistant state adjutant general, said the troops deserved this reception and the efforts of the Franklin community.

“There are lots of folks thumping their chests talking what great Americans they are,” he said, referring to the heated national political campaigns. “But I’m so fortunate that I had an opportunity to come and visit you in Cuba because I had an opportunity, as I told your commander to see the purity, and to see what great Americans are.”

Staff Writer Matt Sanctis contributed to this report.