CU gives guardsmen hero’s homecoming

Wheaton resident and medic for the 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry, Rob Blockinger, kisses his new son Colin, 10 days old, Thursday, for the first time since returning on leave in October 2005. The unit first left in January of 2005. Amelia Moore

Wheaton resident and medic for the 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry, Rob Blockinger, kisses his new son Colin, 10 days old, Thursday, for the first time since returning on leave in October 2005. The unit first left in January of 2005. Amelia Moore

By Kiyoshi Martinez

When he first heard he would be returning home from Iraq, Rob Blockinger said he was scared because of the transition back to life in the United States. But on the day of his homecoming, Blockinger said he was excited to return home from Iraq – and with good reason: he could hold his 10-day-old son, Colin, in his arms for the first time.

“We did what we had to do,” Blockinger said. “And now, it’s time to catch up for lost time.”

Blockinger, a medic, returned with the rest of the 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry Thursday and said he plans to return home to Wheaton, Ill., to attend school at the College of DuPage.

The 130th came home to a patriotic display for their homecoming after spending more than a year in Iraq.

People lined the roads of Neil Street and University Avenue waving flags, holding signs and cheering as four buses with a police escort journeyed the final distance to bring the 130th home to the National Guard Armory, 600 E. University Ave., Urbana.

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“They deserve our thanks for putting their ass on the line,” said John Patten of Champaign, who waited along Neil Street to welcome the soldiers home. “You may not believe in the war, but you better support the troops. They did a hell of a job. They were right in the thick of it.”

Amy Stewart waited outside for the procession Thursday morning with her three children along South Neil Street to welcome home the troops, even though she was not waiting to see a specific soldier.

“We want to show visible support for the troops and let them know that we appreciate what they’ve done,” Stewart said.

At the armory, family members waited for their loved ones to return, wearing T-shirts with the unit’s name and carrying balloons saying “Welcome Home, Job Well Done, Blackhawks and Hooah.”

Manuel Carvajal traveled from North Chicago with his family to welcome home his brother, Spc. Edwardo “Lalo” Nieves. Carvajal said although he had a general idea of when Nieves would return, it wasn’t until three days ago that he knew the exact day.

Carvajal said he plans to party and drink with his brother, who turned 21 in Iraq.

“He said it’s completely different over there,” Carvajal said, who talked with his brother through e-mail and phone calls. “It’s nothing like you’d expect here, of course. . He said he had a good experience.”

Lt. Col. Mark Jackson of the 130th welcomed the soldiers back and addressed them inside the armory, which was filled with excited family members. Once the soldiers were dismissed, hugs and tears filled the area.

Jackson, who is originally from Rantoul, Ill., but now resides in Frankfort, Ill., said the support from the community was incredible and after returning home he plans to relax and “do a whole lot of nothing.”

He said the 130th helped build schools and provided health care to rural areas.

“There’s some wonderful people in Iraq,” Jackson said. “Just like back here.”

Champaign Mayor Gerald Schweighart said while he did not know anyone personally that was a member of the 130th, he was happy to know that three Champaign police officers, who were members of the unit, were returning and was pleased to see the community come out to show its support.

“I was there when they left a year ago,” Schweighart said. “I’m glad to see them back.”

Ryan Davis, Daily Illini staff writer contributed to this report.