Starting Friday, March 28, 2014, officials, businesses, and residents of the Vernon Parish area will offer two sizable welcome-home celebrations for Fort Polk soldiers bracketing the week ending April 3.

Starting Friday, March 28, 2014, officials, businesses, and residents of the Vernon Parish area will offer two sizable welcome-home celebrations for Fort Polk soldiers bracketing the week ending April 3.

Since the recent arrival at Fort Polk of soldiers returning from deployment to Afghanistan, area organizations and private citizens alike have planned ways to show these conflict-weary warriors the depth of their gratitude and appreciation, both on post and in town, for the soldiers’ sacrifices.

The celebrations will kick off on Friday, March 28 at 3 p.m., when WheelMart, along with other area businesses and a long list of sponsors, will host a welcome-home party for soldiers and their families. Everyone is invited to attend the event. It is free of charge, and there will be a variety of foods, drinks, and activities for adults and children alike.

One of the event’s organizers, Candace McRae, explained the thrust of the decision to throw this party.

“We had several businesspeople in Leesville who wanted to do something to say ‘welcome home’ to the soldiers,” McRae explained. “We know there’s another event going on at Fort Polk, but we wanted something where they could come into town and feel the warmth and hospitality of town.”

She added they decided to use WheelMart’s car park, citing easy access to Hwy 171 and spacious parking area in the adjacent field.

She said the core of the party was the opportunity for soldiers and citizens to mingle and get to know one another.

“The people of Vernon Parish can come and meet the soldiers and say ‘hey, thanks, we missed you, we were worried about you, and we’re glad you’re home safely,’ and pat those [soldiers] on the back,” she said.

The Fort Polk event McRae referenced, which will be held on the post at Mountain Field, is Patriot Pride Day.

Organized by the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee, Patriot Pride Day will be held on Thursday, April 3, closing the week of welcome with a celebration of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division’s last group of soldiers’ return to American soil.

The festivities will begin with the brigade’s uncasing ceremony at 4 p.m., during which the unit’s flag, put away or cased prior to deployment to Afghanistan, will be removed from its container and unfurled to fly proudly once again, signifying the unit’s return to its home station.

At 4: 30 p.m., the soldiers will march from Mountain Field to the Morale, Welfare and Recreation site behind the bowling alley on Ninth St., South Fort Polk, for the welcome-home celebration for soldiers and their families that begins at 5 p.m.

This event will differ from the last one the Chamber of Commerce hosted for returning soldiers.

“Last time we had a welcome-home event for the soldiers, we brought them to Leesville,” said Anne Causey, executive director of the Greater Vernon Parish Chamber of Commerce. “This time, we want to bring Leesville to the soldiers. We’d like as many people as possible to come to the celebration on the post and line the parade route, waving flags and showing the soldiers support.”

She added that anyone who wanted to go to post would only have to show valid state-issued identification at the access control points onto the installation.

“From 2-6 p.m. on April 3, anyone can go to any gate, show their IDs, and get on post,” she said. “That will make it easier for people to go show their support for the soldiers and participate in the celebration.”

Causey added numerous businesses were participating in the Chamber’s celebration, providing everything from the food to the people to cook it, and among those flipping burgers and stuffing hotdog buns will be members of Vernon Parish’s commercial community.

Both celebrations’ organizers say they encourage everyone to join the festivities and show the newly-returned soldiers their nine months in Afghanistan are appreciated, their absence was felt, and their return is a momentous occasion to rejoice and make one of the most memorable weeks in Vernon Parish history.