U.S. Army Sgt. Kathy Weiher receives a hug from her mother, Ann Kidder, on Friday at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport. Weiher had just returned home from Iraq and was greeted by family, friends and members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265 and American Legion Post 62 as part of a new program to celebrate the return of Iraq veterans.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

U.S. Army Sgt. Kathy Weiher receives a hug from her mother, Ann Kidder, on Friday at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport. Weiher had just returned home from Iraq and was greeted by family, friends and members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265 and American Legion Post 62 as part of a new program to celebrate the return of Iraq veterans.

Community gathers to welcome veteran home

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Sgt. Kathy Weiher presented her parents, George and Ann Kidder, with tokens of her appreciation for support while she was on duty in Iraq. She was reunited with her husband, Craig, who she married while on leave in February.

— Craig Weiher, of Craig, said he could barely hold back tears when he was waiting Friday in the terminal at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

He was about to see his wife, Kathy, for the first time since the day after their Feb. 17 wedding.

The morning after the ceremony, Kathy's leave ended and she flew back to Tallil, Iraq, to finish her tour of duty as a sergeant in the U.S. Army.

But on Friday, the tears in the airport were tears of happiness, and they belonged not only to Kathy's husband and family, but to almost 30 community members, some of whom had never met or heard of Kathy Weiher.

Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265 gathered its members and called upon other civic organizations to provide what they hope will be the first of many welcome home ceremonies for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Members of the VFW, American Legion Post 62, Ladies Auxiliary, Craig Rotary, Daughters of the American Revolution and Boy Scouts stood in the terminal to welcome a smiling, tearful Kathy back home.

"This isn't a veteran thing; it's a community thing," VFW Post Commander Mark Wick said. "These people are our neighbors coming home."

He said someone asked him whether the VFW did welcoming ceremonies and that got the wheels turning.

He called an emergency meeting to talk about details.

He also got involved the Colorado State Patrol, which provided an escort to the VFW post, along with the Craig Police Department and the Moffat County Sheriff's Office.

Wick said they hope to have the same ceremony for other veterans returning to Craig. He said everyone in the community is invited to join in.

For Wick, he wants to give the soldiers something he never had.

"When we came back from Vietnam, we didn't have any kind of welcome home at all," he said. "It's just the right thing to do."

Dressed in an American flag button-down and an ivory-colored cowboy hat, Craig looked polished but shaky with excitement. In his arms he cradled a bouquet of flowers with tiny American flags and stuffed animals.

Many of the VFW members were dancing with excitement as they raised their flags and prepared to salute their fellow soldier.

Rae Campbell, the wife of a VFW member, stood near the back waving her tiny flag.

"I don't even know her, and I'm so excited I want to cry," she said. "I'm just so excited she's coming home."

Craig and Kathy's immediate family went out on the tarmac to greet her, and, after a long embrace, a beaming Craig and Kathy, a woman with short-red hair who was wearing her uniform, walked hand-in-hand toward the doors of the terminal.

When Kathy entered the terminal, she broke away from her husband to return the salute of VFW members.

"Thank you all," she said, shaking everyone's hand she could reach, smiling through tears of relief and gratitude. "All of you."

She said she was thrilled to see green grass and breathe fresh air when she stepped off the airplane.

"It's just so hot and dusty over there," she said. "I'm going to take a nice hot bubble bath and just soak. We only had restricted showers."

She also can't wait to cook her own meals. Chicken, she said, for her family, as well as new recipes she learned from her comrades in Iraq.

The couple also will take the honeymoon they never got to have. They said they will travel around the Midwest and West, visiting family members and a group of women in Kansas who continually sent Kathy's unit cookies, although she had never met them.

She said she had no idea about the welcome ceremony.

"I didn't expect people to show up," she said gesturing around. "When you see this many people from the community. : I was just so impressed."

She said she was happy to hear the VFW will be making such efforts for all the soldiers returning from tours of duty in Iraq.

"Next time, I'll be right there with them," she said.

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