Chamberlain welcomes 200th Engineer Company home from Afghanistan

CHAMBERLAIN -- Flanked by American flags, yellow ribbons and cheers reflecting American pride, the 200th Engineer Company of the South Dakota Army National Guard made its way Saturday down Main Street in Chamberlain for a welcome-home celebration.

Home from Afghanistan
Sgt. 1st Class Mike DeJong holds his daughter, Samantha, while being congratulated by Chief Warrant Officer 2 Monte Claussen, left, and Pastor Duane Neugebauer on Saturday afternoon at the welcome home celebration for the 200th Engineer Company at the armory in Chamberlain. (Chris Huber/Republic)

CHAMBERLAIN -- Flanked by American flags, yellow ribbons and cheers reflecting American pride, the 200th Engineer Company of the South Dakota Army National Guard made its way Saturday down Main Street in Chamberlain for a welcome-home celebration.

The entire 184-soldier company was first honored Saturday in Pierre before a motorcycle motorcade led the members from the Chamberlain area to Chamberlain for another ceremony.

While in Pierre for the deactivation ceremony earlier in the day, the soldiers were addressed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard. He called Saturday a day for joy as the families and soldiers were reunited.

"I want to say thank you to each and every one of you for what you have done for your fellow Americans, fellow South Dakotans and for the people of Afghanistan," Daugaard said.

The 200th, of Pierre, Chamberlain and Mobridge, deployed in May 2011 as a multi-role bridging unit with a mission to maintain, repair and replace existing military bridges throughout Afghanistan.


While in Afghanistan, members of the 200th built five bridges, deconstructed one, completed 54 bridge repair missions, conducted 10 reconnaissance missions to support theater engineer operations, and conducted 16 inspection missions to support theater bridging operations.

To complete the missions, the 200th traveled a total of 12,500 miles throughout five regional commands in the country -- sometimes traveling up to 760 miles on a single mission, and increasing their exposure to the number one enemy tactic in Afghanistan, improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

Additionally, supply and maintenance personnel for the 200th were responsible for more than $110 million in equipment -- three and a half times the amount of equipment that the same staff size is responsible for back in the United States. Maintenance personnel raised the initial readiness rate of this equipment from 61 percent, when the unit first arrived in theater, to 95 percent in four months. The unit also constructed a new maintenance facility to support current and future operations.

The 200th was awarded one Purple Heart Medal, nine Bronze Star Medals, 13 Navy Commendation Medals, two Navy Achievement Medals, 144 Army Commendation Medals and 33 Army Achievement Medals for their efforts in Afghanistan. An additional 21 Combat Action Badges were awarded to unit members for having received direct enemy fire while on missions.

After the parade in Chamberlain, the group of 49 from the company that reside in the Chamberlain area made its way to the National Guard Armory for a short ceremony.

There with about 150 family and friends packing the bleachers, the company was honored for its service by representatives of the cities of Chamberlain and Oacoma.

During the ceremony, Sgt. 1st Class Mike DeJong also addressed the crowd on behalf of the company.

"I want to thank the community and our families for all the support you have given us during the past year," DeJong said.


"You make it easier for us to do what we have to do to protect this great country that we live in."

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Monte Claussen also spoke, saying he was going to keep it "short and sweet, so the company can go home and spend time with their family."

He thanked the families of the soldiers for their support throughout the past year.

After the program, Spc. Rose Rohrbach, of Chamberlain, said it was an "awesome" feeling to see her family again, and she is going to spend as much time as possible with them during the next few weeks.

"When you are there, the hardest part is missing your family, so seeing them again is great," she said.

She noted it was a little nerve-racking to see them for the first time in a year, but she was excited when she did.

Near the end of the Chamberlain ceremony, 30 seconds of silence were observed for the late Spc. Dennis Jensen, of Sioux Falls.

Jensen died in August 2011 in Afghanistan when he was struck by two steel bridge decking panels that fell from a forklift when a securing strap broke.


Spc. Jared Roe, a Rapid City native, also died in a boating accident on May 9 in South Dakota, one week prior to the unit's deployment.

To close the ceremony, state Rep. James Schaefer, R-Kennebec, spoke.

"God bless you and welcome home. It's good to have you back," he said. "And God Bless America."

Welcome home parade
Spc. Rose Rohrbach rides with her dog, Savannah, through the welcome home parade Saturday on Main Street in Chamberlain. (Chris Huber/Republic)

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