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Army unit to get thank you party March 5
802nd soldiers will receive commemorative coin
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0220HOMEAUD

Listen to Gainesville Christian musician Joey Nicholson perform his song, “I Say Thank You.”

802nd Ordnance homecoming

What: A celebration of the Gainesville-based 802nd Ordnance Company’s return from Afghanistan
When: 2 p.m. March 5
Where: Lakewood Baptist Church, 2235 Thompson Bridge Road, Gainesville
Contact: Ron Kellner, 770-534-2509, or Dave Dellinger, 770-718-7676

Tell your story
The Times is interested in hearing from area families who have a loved one about to deploy overseas or who are waiting for a loved one to return home from deployment. If you would like to tell your story, please contact staff writer Jeff Gill at 770-718-3408 or jgill@gainesvilletimes.com.

Gainesville Christian musician Joey Nicholson jumped on the chance two years ago to send a patriotic song he had written to American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I don't necessarily have a military background, but I'm so thankful for all they do," he said.

Nicholson will get the chance to perform the song, "I Say Thank You," to the 802nd Ordnance Company at a homecoming celebration set for March 5 at Lakewood Baptist Church in Gainesville.

He'll serve as one part of the celebration, which will be a formal welcoming of the 802nd, based at the U.S. Army Reserve Center on Shallowford Road in Gainesville.

The 802nd has been in the U.S. since November. The soldiers returned unharmed, first arriving at Fort Stewart near Savannah.

A small group returned to Gainesville on Nov. 19 in a chartered bus, as most of the soldiers left the base with their families.

The company also has troops in Aiken, S.C., and Fort Gillem in Forest Park, but they'll all be in Gainesville on March 5, which is part of a drill weekend, said Ron Kellner of Operation Patriot's Call.

Patriot's Call, a military support group, is organizing the event.

More than 200 troops will be in Gainesville.

"Not all of them were deployed, but that's OK," Kellner said. "We still want to (honor) them all. And we'll have the families there."

Gov. Nathan Deal has been invited, along with other dignitaries, including state Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville.

Deal "has said that, unless something happens, he will be there and will speak," Kellner said.

In addition, "we will have some officers from the higher command there, but I am waiting to hear who they will be."

Also planned to appear or perform some kind of function at the public event are the Hall County Sheriff's Office Color Guard, Chestatee High School band and chorus, and Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle group that often appears at military-related events.

The 802nd commander, Capt. Todd Bostick, who couldn't be reached for comment, is scheduled to speak and present awards to soldiers, Kellner said.

Patriot's Call members also will present commemorative coins to the 802nd.

The coins "have on one side the gold emblem of the ordnance and then, on the other side, they have a picture of Afghanistan and show the locations where the company was deployed," Kellner said.

The soldiers also will receive a police escort to the church from the Army Reserve Center.

When they arrive, "they'll unload from the bus and march through the double row of the Patriot Guard motorcycles and flags, like was done for Charlie Company, and into the auditorium," Kellner said.

Charlie Company, a Georgia Army National Guard unit based off Alta Vista Road in Gainesville, returned to the U.S. from Afghanistan in late March and was honored in a homecoming celebration June 26 at Lakeshore Mall.

Nicholson, a speaker and worship leader at churches, said he is happy to say "welcome home" to the troops with his music.

"I'm always thankful for the opportunity to minister. I consider it ministry to say ‘thank you' to them and I appreciate them so much for what they've done for me and for us."

Kellner said he hopes for a large public showing March 5.

"The soldiers have given a lot to defend our country and we'd like the community to come out and give an hour or so of their time to recognize them," he said.

After the event, Patriot's Call's work nears an end — at least for now. The group's charge has been to support locally based troops and their families six months before and after deployment.

"We're going to have a ceremony to retire our colors, or our flag, because hopefully our services won't be needed anymore," said Kellner, a Vietnam War veteran. "If they are, we will reactivate."

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