MOUNT HOLLY - Spc. Suzanne Jones didn't know what was waiting for her when she arrived at American Emergency Squad for a welcome home ceremony Wednesday night.
"This is awesome," the Long Island, N.Y., resident said. "I wasn't expecting this at all."
Jones is one of roughly 60 soldiers who were honored by area veterans groups, residents, firefighters, police, politicians and community organizations.
The soldiers are members of the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Dix, a medical hold unit for injured service members.
Jones has been stationed at the unit for two months with knee injuries and said she missed many of the big rallies when National Guard members returned from Iraq in June.
The event aimed to provide the injured men and women with a proper welcome home.
Motorcycle riders from the Mount Holly Police Department and various veterans groups, including Warriors Watch, Patriot Guard, Nam Knights of America, Legion Riders, CamCo Hogs and VFW Riders and fire trucks from Mount Holly, Lumberton and Hainesport accompanied the soldiers from Fort Dix to the emergency squad.
A crowd of people was waiting to thank the troops for their service and sacrifices.
"What a great day to be an American, what a great day to be a solider in the United States Army," Capt. Robert Crymes, commander of the Warrior Transition Unit, said, thanking event organizers and attendees.
John Hennessy, founder of www.saluteburlcotroops.com, partnered with the Evesham-based Yellow Ribbon Club, Warriors Watch and various veterans organizations to organize the event. Volunteers donated dinner and dessert for the troops and the emergency squad offered to host the event.
"We wanted to thank them for their service. I don't think they ever got a thank you," said Hennessy, a Mount Holly fire commissioner. "We can't thank these guys enough."
The Yellow Ribbon Club presented all of the soldiers with ribbons.
"We live in the best country because of you," club founder Leslie Drummond said.
U.S. Rep. John Adler, D-3rd of Cherry Hill, presented the soldiers with certificates of special congressional recognition for honorable military service.
Representatives from Mount Holly VFW Post 2692 and American Legion Post 11, the American Legion Ladies Auxiliary and other organizations also presented the soldiers with certificates and tokens of appreciation.
"We appreciate it," Spc. Benney Peoples said. "It was nice."
Peoples, who lives in Michigan, has been in the medical hold unit for two months waiting to find out if she needs shoulder surgery. She was injured while training in Iraq.
"I'm just happy to be getting off post," she said of the event.
Crymes said the unit gets a lot of community support, including weekly visits from members of the Bordentown Township chapter of Vietnam Veterans of American. But he said the medical unit has never had an off-base welcome home party.
"The soldiers that you see before you fought overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan and now they come home and continue to fight to heal," the Eastampton resident said. "My hat is off to these guys who continue to fight to get better, to get well."
Contact: mhayes@phillyBurbs.com or 609-267-5569