Day of thanks

Community shows its gratitude for soldier's service to country

Courtland Folks and Brian Soper have a lot in common.

They met at the police academy and went on to start law enforcement careers in Craig. They hang out and lift weights together. They both served in the Army.

And now they can talk about what it's like to live and work in Iraq.

On Saturday, the two sat together, saluted the flag together and laughed together at a community dinner in Soper's honor. Politicians and police, combat veterans and patriotic residents joined to celebrate the soldier's safe return.

Soper, who is a sergeant with the Craig Police Department, recently came home after more than a year serving in Iraq.

Folks, a Moffat County Sheriff's deputy, was deployed in Iraq in the early '90s.

Folks said he and Soper haven't had much time to sit down and chat, but they have a lot of ground to cover.

"I was in a lot of the places he was," Folks said, "around Baghdad and up the Euphrates River."

Folks said he's noticed in Soper the awe and appreciation that comes upon one's return home to the U.S. from a hostile foreign land. The essence of America seems to stand out in sharp relief, Folks said.

"I see the change in him already," Folks said. "But it will take him a good six months to settle into it all. It's like starting all over again."

At the community potluck, Soper was showered with thank-yous, hand shakes and hugs. Veterans wished him well and said they were glad to see him return safely. Members of the American Legion thanked him for his service and offered their support.

"I told him we were combat vets, too, and if he needed to talk, we were there for him," said Doug Thomas, state chaplain of the American Legion.

Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta read aloud an award the United States Army bestowed on Soper. The soldier received an Army Commendation Medal for his work as a team leader.

"Your leadership and skill as a heavy equipment operator was important to the company's success in completing its Forward Operating Base construction mission," the award stated.

On the wall near where Vanatta spoke hung a quilt given to Soper by Sherri Lawton, widow of Staff Sgt. Mark Lawton, who was killed in Iraq in August, 2003.

Lawton and Soper were good friends, Sherri Lawton said. They trained together in Grand Junction, and they worked closely during their time in Iraq.

Brian Soper's parents, Bill and Mary, said Sherri Lawton wrote a periodic newsletter that lifted the spirits of soldiers' families and kept them informed about the soldiers' whereabouts.

Mary Soper said her son plans to hang the quilt at the police station.

Brian Soper is scheduled to return to work May 15.

"I've talked to Brian a couple times, and he's excited to get back," said Craig Police Capt. Jerry DeLong. "But I think he deserves some time off."

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com

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