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For Staff Sgt. Alex Seretny, the best part about the welcome home ceremony for his Connecticut National Guard unit last week was not the Purple Heart or the Bronze Star Medal he received.
What he enjoyed most, he said, was being in the same room as everyone from his company.
"For me to be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with my fellow troops, words can't describe how awesome that feeling is, to know that we had all made it back," said Seretny, 33, of Windham. "It's something that any leader and soldier strives for, that we leave no one behind. And we managed to do that."
The Connecticut National Guard held a formal welcome home ceremony Tuesday at the Gov. William A. O'Neill State Armory for the 143rd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion of Waterbury, 1048th Transportation Company of Enfield and B Company, 2nd Battalion, 104th Aviation Regiment of Windsor Locks.
About 250 soldiers from the three units were recognized for their service during recent deployments to Southwest Asia. All three units returned to Connecticut within the last eight months.
The event is expected to be the last large welcome home ceremony for the Connecticut National Guard as U.S. forces withdraw from Afghanistan through the end of 2014.
"When you deploy with your fellow soldiers, they really start to become part of your extended family," Seretny said. "That being the case, I have a pretty big family after three deployments. Knowing that all my brothers and sisters are home and doing what they like, and doing it in the safety of being in the United States, it's a good feeling."
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who attended the ceremony, said, "I have thought back over these years to all of the heroism and sacrifice made by these men and women. I'm just so impressed and grateful."
Seretny and Spec. Michael Peterson of Weymouth, Mass., who are members of the transportation company, received the Purple Heart. They were injured on June 13, 2013, when their convoy was attacked outside of Qalat, the capital of Zabul province, in southern Afghanistan. They were delivering supplies to several forward operating bases.
Seretny and Peterson were in the lead vehicle, which struck a roadside bomb. The convoy was then attacked with heavy small arms fire. Seretny suffered a shrapnel wound to his left shoulder and remained in Afghanistan. Peterson, who was the gunner, suffered facial lacerations and an eye injury, Seretny said. He returned home for medical care and was in attendance for Tuesday's ceremony.
In Afghanistan, after he was injured, Seretny re-enlisted for six years. He has served for 11 years in the National Guard and deployed to Afghanistan three times.
"I'm just trying to give back. The state has been nothing but good to me. The military has opened more doors for me than any other facet of my life," he said.
Seretny received the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service throughout the tour. He previously was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with a "V" device to designate valor.
Nineteen others received the Bronze Star Medal for a variety of acts of merit and meritorious service in a combat zone. They are: Lt. Col. Tom Dennis, of Norwich, who commanded the 143rd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion overseas, as well as the battalion's executive officer, Maj. Jeff Connelly, of Groton, and Command Sgt. Maj. Orlando Anderson, of Manchester.
Capt. Evan Lock, of Southington, received the medal for his service in the aviation regiment.
For the transportation company, the recipients are: Capt. Joshua Malaro, of Lisbon, 1st Sgt. William Gallucci, of Windsor Locks, 1st Lt. Michael Albert, of Torrington, 1st Lt. Emily Hein, of South Windsor, 1st Lt. Henry Vargas, of Waterbury, Sgt. 1st Class Eduardo Foster, of North Haven, Sgt. 1st Class Robert Muschett, of Stratford, Sgt. 1st Class Lisa Young, of Bristol, Sgt. 1st Class Roberto Pauleus, of Waterbury, Staff Sgt. Brian Cote, of Enfield, Staff Sgt. Jose Rodriguez, of Hartford, Staff Sgt. LaSonya Jones, of Middletown, Staff Sgt. Timothy Keefe, of East Granby, Staff Sgt. Alexander Fatone, of Salem, and Spec. Krystine Carey, of Hebron.
Currently, nine soldiers and 11 airmen from the Connecticut National Guard are deployed to Southwest Asia.