Families, Soldiers Honored

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"They are the whole reason behind what I did."

And what SSG Jeff Wilkerson did was serve along with several other soldiers of the 617Th in Iraq.

Now, nearly a year after their return, the Kentucky National Guard showed their appreciation to the soldiers and their families with a "Freedom Salute" ceremony.

"A National Guard ceremony developed to recognize the support that the soldiers received from the employers and their family members and also recognize the sacrifices they mad as well as what the soldiers have made," says Cdmr. Todd Linder.

The main idea of the ceremony was to say thank you to those who were left behind when the soldiers were sent overseas.

"Its a big commitment for the family members to have their soldier, whether it be their husband, wife or child gone and deployed especially in harm's way. So its important that the soldier recognizes them in a public forum."

"It meant so much to me because that was the hardest year of my life. I had to give up my best friend and husband that year," notes SSG Wilkerson's wife, Tina.

Soldiers presented spouses with lapel pins that showed appreciation from the soldier to the spouse and children were given a future soldier kit that included games and other activities.

Although Tina Wilkerson says the year without her husband was difficult for both her and their three children, the time apart made has made her appreciate him even more.

"I try not to take him for granted so much and in any marriage that's so easy to do. And we all just need to remember how special we are to one another and never forget to tell each other that you love each other."

More than 75 soldiers and their families were honored as a part of Sunday's ceremony.

The 617Th were in Iraq from November of 2004 until their return to Kentucky on October 31st 2005.