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363rd Military Police Company celebrates its return from Iraq

By Gary A. Harki

STAFF WRITER

MORGANTOWN -- As the lights dimmed and a slideshow of their Middle East deployment began, the faces of those in the room expressed a range of emotions.

There were normally gruff military officers with tears in their eyes. Wives in military fatigues held their civilian husbands' hands with looks of pride on their faces.

There were children, smiling and simply happy to be sitting on daddy's desert camouflaged lap.

The 363rd Military Police Company, based in Grafton and Jane Lew, celebrated its return from Iraq with plenty of good food, smiles and awards Sunday at the Morgantown Ramada Inn.

Sponsored by the 363rd Family Readiness Group, the luncheon included the presentation of a Purple Heart to Spc. James M. Moore of Jane Lew.

Moore was part of an Oct. 20 convoy, traveling from Balad to Baghdad. He was in the turret of the unarmored humvee when a crudely made bomb ripped through the vehicle, sending shrapnel into his right leg.

Sgt. Jeffrey Keller happened to be traveling in the opposite direction on the same road and arrived shortly after the explosion.

"He kept his senses," Keller said, noting that he helped his friend smoke a cigarette as he waited to be transported. "He told me that he wanted a football rematch, we had been playing (a football video game) the night before."

Moore walks with perhaps a slight limp, and carries a cane. He used the cane to comedic effect, performing an exaggerated bow as he was introduced.

"I am just glad to be back home," Moore said.

That was a sentiment shared by all those on hand Sunday, as the group gathered as a "family" for what will be the last time for some.

"It took a little while to get back into the swing of things," said Spc. Monica Thompson of the return home. "In some ways this is a farewell, so many people are getting out (of the reserves)."

The unit was originally deployed for Homeland Security purposes in December of 2001.

The 363rd Military Police Company was mobilized again on Feb. 7, 2003 and deployed to Kuwait on April 24. From there pieces of the unit moved into and out of Iraq as needed.

Most of the unit returned home on Dec. 24.

The dinner and reception may be the last time some of the retiring soldiers spend time with the unit, Thompson said.

"This is a nice way to say farewell. It is like saying good-bye to family," Thompson said.

Jennifer Zinn understands that sentiment. Her husband, Sgt. Charles Zinn, is retiring from service.

Sgt. Zinn was deployed for Operation Desert Storm as well, Jennifer said.

The Zinn's two teenage sons, Clay and Shane, helped out around the house.

Family support kept them all grounded, Jennifer said, as the couple's daughter Haley tugged at her mother's dress for attention.

"(The luncheon) is a really nice way to bring closure," Jennifer said. "It's nice to see everyone here together."

After the slide show it was time for the presentation of awards. Most if not all members of the company would be receiving some type of award. It would not be a quick presentation.

Moore and Keller slipped out of the back doors of the grand ballroom and watched from there. Both knew that the Purple Heart would be the last award given out.

"I'm a little nervous," Moore said about receiving the medal.

"Na, don't be nervous," Keller said. "It's not a medal you want to receive. But you've went through a lot, you earned it."

Staff writer Gary Harki can be reached at 626-1404 or by e-mail at gharki@exponent-telegram.com