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Returning Troops, Parade, Part of Early Veteran's Day Observances

The American military took center stage in downtown Columbus Thursday afternoon. The city's annual Veteran's Day Parade included thousands of troops, an assortment of vehicles and marching bands. Later a throng of family and friends turned out at a local church to welcome Ohio National Guard members returning from Iraq.

A crowd of about a thousand people stood outside a Westerville mega-church Thursday afternoon waiting to see their loved ones. About 120 members of the 16th Engineer Brigade were returning from more than a year of duty in Iraq. Pam Vogel was waiting for her husband with a group of family and friends.

"We are from Heath, Ohio, and we are waiting on Sergeant Major James E. Vogel, Junior. I have his parents, his sister from Chicago, my two nieces my sister, and our son Greg Vogel. And we are all ecstatic!"

The relatives of Specialist Deeanna Rudolph probably outnumbered the Vogels - there were 15 of them. Rudolph's four year-old son was there along with her grandfather and her grandmother Agnes Head.

"I am welcoming my oldest granddaughter, Deeanna, home. She's been gone for 14 months and we praise God he brought her back safe - every one of them. We've been praying for each and every one of them day and night!"

It was only minutes later when several buses rolled into the parking and the 16th Engineer Brigade was home.

A sergeant major with the 16th Bridge described his 14 months in Iraq as "rewarding," but he declined to talk about troop morale or the Bush administration's military strategy in Iraq. Sgt. Carolyn Phillips, who worked in the motor pool at Camp Liberty in Baghdad, took a similar approach.

"Those of us that worked among the Iraqis, they love us. And they're happy that we're there. I really, I'm not at liberty to view my, ah, I just do what I'm told to do."

At a welcome home ceremony inside the returning guard members got a standing ovation that lasted several minutes. Governor Taft was there to welcome the soldiers home.

"To the men and women of the 16th Engineering Brigade, on behalf of all Ohioans, welcome home and congratulations on a job well done!"

The people who lined High Street downtown for the annual Columbus Veteran's Day Parade seemed almost as enthusiastic, often applauding as veterans and service members marched passed. Spectator Linda Wilcox says she supports the work of the U.S. military in Iraq.

"My dad is a vet from the Korean War and I am a loyal citizen to my country and what it stands for and to the military. I support our troops even today in Iraq."

But Wilcox says she thinks President Bush got a wake-up call from voters on Tuesday.

"Well he got a little kick in the butt and I think he needed that, you know. I don't think we have enough troops over there. And it's just a lot on the ones that are there. Mr. Rumsfeld wasn't doing the job."

Charlie Hampton had a similar assessment. The 42-year-old, who identified himself as a Marine Corps veteran, thinks Tuesday's election could be a turning point for U.S. involvement in Iraq.

"I think the American people decided that we need a change in Iraq; that our American troops needed to be supported in a different way. And the way they did that is by electing a new Congress who hopefully will be able to work with the president in devising a new strategy."

Hampton said he thinks a new defense secretary will help bolster confidence among U.S. troops.