When a group of residents decided to "get the band back together" for Coins for a Camouflage Christmas, they had no idea that their efforts would be cut short by the return of the 2nd Battalion 222nd Field Artillery of the Utah Army National Guard, said Richard Barnett.
However, Barnett said everyone involved was happy to trade the group's original plans for a welcome home dinner for the soldiers.
"We started this thing as a way to help provide as normal a Christmas as we could for these families," Barnett said. Coins for a Camouflage Christmas started as a local effort in 2005 when the 222nd was deployed on an 18-month mission in Iraq. Barnett said there was no hesitation in reestablishing the effort when word came confirming the 2011 deployment.
Barnett said the effort was originally designed to replicate what it did in 2005 by providing comfort, fun and gifts for families, but a welcome home event was so much better.
Capt. Cody Workman, the commanding officer of A Battery, said he has been touched by the support of the community for soldiers and their families.
"When we deploy, the entire community deploys," Workman said. "The entire community stepped up as soon as we got the order, and even before we got orders."
Gen. Brian Tarbet, commanding general of the Utah National Guard, attended Thursday's dinner, and said the men of the 222nd and their support system at home are special.
"There is no more storied unit than this one," Tarbet said. He said the men of the 222nd are sometimes referred to as the "golden boys," but it's not until one comes to the communities the soldiers come from that one can understand why there is something special about the unit.
"This didn't have to end happily," Tarbet said. He said the mission in Iraq of turning off the lights of American efforts in the country was a difficult one, and potentially dangerous.
"Heaven has blessed this organization many times in the past, and it was no exception this time," Tarbet said.
Every soldier who left with the Triple Deuce came home safely.
The soldiers of the 222nd were deployed in June. The group includes approximately 400 men from Richfield, Cedar City, Beaver, Fillmore, St. George and surrounding communities.
After training at Camp Atterbury, Ind., the soldiers were deployed to Iraq, where the mission was originally expected to keep them for nearly a year.
Rumors of the Triple Deuce's early return started to circulate in October after President Barack Obama announced the removal of all U.S. military personnel from Iraq by the end of the year. The early return was later confirmed, and soldiers came back to the states in several groups.