Central Florida Guardsmen to return for Christmas; Soldiers will return home via bus thanks to donations

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (Dec. 20, 2013) – More than 300 members of the Florida Army National Guard’s 3rd Battalion, 116th Field Artillery Regiment, are scheduled to return to the U.S. after a nearly year-long deployment in Southwest Asia, and thanks to support from Florida retailers and The American Legion they will be able to come home to central Florida while on pass for the Christmas holiday.

The unit deployed to Qatar early this year in support of Operation Enduring Freedom to provide security at multiple U.S. military installations. The Soldiers of the battalion are from the communities of  Arcadia, Lake Wales and Plant City.

Currently the Soldiers are scheduled to arrive at Camp Shelby Joint Force Training Center, Miss., on Dec. 22, and will be granted a pass to return home for Christmas on Dec. 24.  Recent donations from The American Legion and Florida retailers have helped raise funds to pay for their transportation home for 4 days over Christmas and back to Camp Shelby to demobilize from active duty.  All of the Soldiers should be back in Florida by mid-January.

On Monday, Gov. Rick Scott issued a challenge via social media to major Florida retailers to help raise funds to support these Soldiers. On Thursday he announced that ten companies had raised enough money to pay for the transportation. They were: Publix Supermarkets; the Florida Retail Federation; Walgreens; Great Bay Distributors; Food Marketers Institute Foundation; the Retail Industry Leaders Association; Badcock Home Furniture & More; Chico’s FAS; Bealls Department Stores; and Wal-Mart.

Those funds – with the addition of funds also raised by The American Legion – will be provided to the Florida National Guard Foundation to purchase the necessary transportation.

Florida’s Assistant Adjutant General for Army Maj. Gen. James Tyre thanked Gov. Scott for his leadership in organizing the effort to bring the Soldiers home.

“I especially want to thank the Florida Retail Federation and the American Legion for their generosity and for quickly answering the needs of our families,” Tyre said. “…This will be a Homecoming and Christmas they will never forget.  Thank you, again, to all who made this possible.”

After Christmas, the Soldiers will be taken back to Camp Shelby to complete their final demobilization process, as required by the Department of Defense.

Times and locations of return to Florida on Christmas Eve are not yet finalized.