WALLA WALLA -- Fifteen Washington State Penitentiary staffers got a big "welcome home" Friday.
The employees were all veterans who have been deployed to Iraq during the past year with the Washington Army National Guard. At a ceremony held at the prison, they were treated to cake and a continuous stream of congratulations from an assembled audience of officials and their fellow workers.
Accolades came from Gov. Chris Gregoire and Eldon Vail, Department of Corrections secretary; U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who wrote, "We owe you a debt of gratitude for your dedication and courage;" and state Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla.
Don Schack, Blue Mountain Veterans Coalition commander, used his parade-ground voice to tell the group, "Job well done and I salute a job well done!"
Penitentiary staff and supervisors also weighed in via a taped presentation that delivered a steady stream of comments that included more than one "welcome home," "thanks," "thank you for serving," "I'm in debt to you" and "thank you for all the hard work you did."
Led by Staff Sgt. Corey Howard, the veterans also presented a number of honors of their own to prison Superintendent Steven Sinclair and the prison staff for support given to the National Guard members during their deployment.
As related by returned veteran Kelly Brown, that support included helping the soldiers from Walla Walla obtain a Washington state flag to fly during their time in Iraq.
That flag returned with the veterans and "it's just faded as can be and it's just awesome," she told the audience.