Soldier presents flag to DHR
Melissa Cason, Franklin County Times
A local soldier received a warm homecoming after spending one year in Afghanistan.
Benjamin Willmarth, 21, of Russellville, presented the Franklin County Department of Human Resources with a flag flown on April 11, 2007 in an undisclosed location in Afghanistan.
"You have done so much for me while I was over there, so I wanted to present this flag," Willmarth said as he handed the flag to DHR director Jerry Groce.
Willmarth is the son of DHR employee Bonnie Willmarth, and he was a constant in the DHR offices during his childhood.
"We feel real honored because we've known him [Willmarth] since he was a child, and it's an honor just to know him," Groce said.
Willmarth was deployed with the 207th Infantry Brigade out of Alaska even though he was in the 142nd Signal Brigade.
"Me and another guy got attached to the unit from Alaska," Willmarth said.
He was gone from home for 14 months with one year of that time in Afghanistan.
"It was startling because I was wondering why they were sending me to a place so cold to go to a place so hot," Willmarth said.
Before his deployment, Willmarth married his girlfriend, Ashley. They were married one month prior to him departing for Alaska.
"He was just gone," she said. "There was nothing to do but wait."
Since his return, Willmarth is working on building life with his wife, and settling back into his life after being gone for more than a year.
"At first, you have a sense that the mission is incomplete, but after a few days it gets better," Willmarth said.
He said that the first thing he noticed when he got home is how green everything is instead of just sand.
"I know we are supposed to be in a drought but everything is still green and not dessert and nasty," he said.
At the end of the day, Willmarth wanted to come back to the people who offered him love and support during his deployment. A certificate stating that it was flown in Afghanistan, and that was presented to the Franklin County Department of Human Resources accompanied the flag, which will be on display at the DHR offices in the very near future.
"We have a lot of veterans from our county from different wars," Groce said. "This flag is to honor them as well."