They're home, they're safe, and they made a difference.
On Saturday, members of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, Company C, 1st Infantry Regiment, gathered at Hometown Armory, 106 Ardmore Ave., for a Freedom Salute to success in Operation Enduring Freedom.
The event took place during heavy snowfall, making roads treacherous and cutting public attendance down to two dozen.
But nothing could diminish a sense of pride and accomplishment.
"You're part of the 1 percent," said 1st Lt. Ronald Mills in his opening address. "You helped write the final chapter in the Iraq war."
The unit, known as "Charlie Co.," was deployed in 2012, conducting operations in Kuwait. The soldiers were involved in duties ranging from patrolling to running an entire camp in support of U.S. operations in the Middle East.
"Own it and be proud of it," said Mills. "Serving your country in time of war is the greatest sacrifice a government can ask of its citizens. Enjoy your Christmas with your family."
Lt. Col. Michael Koehler, commander, offered gratitude to the ones who waited at home.
"We couldn't do what we do without support of families," Koehler said.
Tamaqua Mayor Chris Morrison thanked the unit on behalf of 7,000 residents of the community and told the soldiers that they've gained something nobody ever will take away.
"You'll always have your brotherhood and your memories of overseas. Thanks for keeping us safe and free," Morrison said.
Sgt. Justin Hain, Elizabethtown, a veteran with eight years of USMC service, read words from "I am the Guard."
"I was there where the violent sandstorms did not bury my determination, but only hardened my resolve. Across the desert marched a parade of soldiers where the good of many defeated the evil of one. I was there ... I am the Guard," he said solemnly.
Inclement weather precluded a salute using fire trucks from throughout the region. Still, folks on hand said nothing could keep them away.
"I'm here to honor their monumental sacrifice," said Jeaninne Motroni, Hometown, a Rush Township municipal supervisor.
Soldiers received several awards and commendations in appreciation and recognition of their service, the nature of the honor determined by how many deployments each had completed.
The soldiers received an American flag and certificate for a custom ring.
Additional awards were presented to families and children to honor sacrifices made at home. Those included footlocker kits and National Guard Team pins.
Concluding the observance, the Guard conducted a promotion-in-rank ceremony in which a few were elevated.
Afterward, the unit was treated to dinner funded by the Lansford American Legion Riders, Post 123. The group of motorcycle enthusiasts sponsored dinners, participated in bike night events, and performed other fundraising activities throughout the year with a goal of supporting the troops in a tangible manner.
"We did all kinds of things," said spokeswoman Wendy Butrie. Other members on hand included Joe Butrie, president, Paul and Roseann Zona and Jenny Zona.
The American Legion Riders group, in turn, was honored by the battalion for their loyal support.