Staff SGT Donald Wayne West, Jr., enlisted in the United States Army National Guard on September 11, 2001. As part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Company A of the 150th Combat Engineers served active duty Aug 29, 2004, until Dec 30, 2005. SSGT West returned to college in January, 2006. He married Lauren Ritchie June 9, 2006, at Seaside, Fla., and they have three children. SSGT West completed military service at Camp Minden, LA on Aug 23, 2009.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Day 332 - Message of Thanks from LTC John Rhodes

Wayne serves with the 150th Engineer Battalion, a part of the 155th Brigade Combat Team (link includes video of partial homecoming), which also includes the 155th Infantry Battalion. Many wives and mothers of these soldiers have become my friends this year through online conversations on military family discussion boards.

This is the final message from Lieutenant Colonel Rhodes, who will be one of the last soldiers with the 155th to return to the States in January. We send prayers for all those who continue to serve with him until their safe return to American soil.

To the Families and Friends of the 1-155th IN BN
(Mississippi Rifles):

As we begin to depart Iraq, I want to express my appreciation for the overwhelming support we received during this deployment.

I have had the privilege of serving with the best that America has to offer. It is truly remarkable what these great soldiers have accomplished. They have endured being away from their families for almost eighteen months; served in a hostile environment where they encountered hostile attacks regularly; mourned the loss of their comrades; and suffered through the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Yet through it all, they have remained dedicated to their mission. Iraq is a better country because of their efforts. The Iraqi citizens will always remember the generosity demonstrated by these professionals.

These soldiers crossed the forward edge of freedom and faced the dangers of war to preserve America's way of life. They did not risk their lives for fame or fortune. They did it because this is who they are and what they represent. America is the "Home of the Brave," and I've had the honor of serving with them. These soldiers are the modern day "Mississippi Rifles" who have carried on the great traditions of this proud Infantry Regiment.

I thank the fine families of these soldiers. Your efforts are as commendable as those who served in Iraq. No one understands the hardships of war more than a soldier's family. For 18 months, your lives have been disrupted as you have had to bear the burden of taking care of your family. You have been forced to assume the role of both Mother and Father and provide comfort to your children. Your resilience and courage during Hurricane Katrina is a true testament to us all. You have fought the harder battle, and I am forever grateful for your enduring support. From day one, we were in this all together and your contributions were vital to our success.

I thank our wonderful Family Support Groups and Family Assistance Coordinators. You were the critical link between us and our families. I relied often on you to communicate with the families and media back home. Every time we asked for assistance, you delivered. During Hurricane Katrina, you went above the call of duty by contacting our family members and making sure they were safe. You brought relief for many soldiers who went days without knowing the status of their family. You functioned in a major role for this battalion, and your efforts were essential to our success.

I thank our communities for their great support. We received countless letters, cards, and packages from friends, churches, schools, and community groups. Your generous donations served a critical need and provided comfort to our lives. Many of you provided school supplies, candy, clothing, and other items for the Iraqi children. These children will always remember the kind acts that you displayed. There was never any doubt that the people back home supported us and kept us in their thoughts and prayers. This constant reminder was a major factor in maintaining our morale throughout this deployment.

I thank the Mississippi National Guard for providing comfort and assistance to our families in need, especially during Hurricane Katrina. You made every effort to locate and contact our family members, cleaned up storm debris in their yards, and coordinated lodging for those who had to relocate due to damages. You were also there to assist the families of our fallen comrades and soldiers who were seriously wounded. It was a great comfort knowing that you were available to support in any way.

I thank the local media outlets for regularly publishing and broadcasting many of our stories over the past year. You greatly supplemented communication with our loved ones and friends back home. You kept the public abreast with our situation and accurately informed them about our experiences. We and our communities are grateful for your contributions.

Lastly, I pay tribute to our fallen comrades. The most difficult thing that I encountered during this deployment was contacting the family members of these fallen heroes. It was a true blessing to talk to these families. I was in awe of their enduring strength and tremendous courage. They provided me encouragement and the will to carry on with our mission.

As we leave Iraq, a part of us will always remain here. A sense of guilt is felt by each surviving soldier; wondering why he was privileged enough to be reunited with his family, and 11 of our brothers were not? Only GOD can answer that question. Each one was special and unique to us. They left behind young wives, small children, and a host of friends. They sacrificed everything to give a better life to other people. They are heroes because how they lived and what they believed. They answered the call of duty and devoted their lives for America.

America is what it is today, because of the Almighty GOD and people like these outstanding soldiers. Their spirit will always live through us and their legacy will carry on through the Defenders of this great Nation. We thank GOD for allowing them to share their lives with us and ask that HE will continue to bless their families.

(Click on names to read more about each hero.)

SPC Daniel Varnado

SPC Bryan Barron

SGT Drew Rahaim

SGT Timothy Osbey

SGT Shane Pugh

SPC Robert McNail

CPL Audrey Lunsford

SSG Saburant "Sabot" Parker

CPT Tom Miller

MAJ Greg Fester

LT Robert Oneto-Sikorski

We few, we happy few,
band of brothers;
For he today
that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother.
William Shakespeare

Thank you again
for your continued support.

1-155TH IN BN, 155TH BCT

(Thanks to Lynn of Senatobia for many of the soldier's pictures.)