October 16, 2018
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Parade of Honor

Last November, Evansvillians lined the streets to welcome home National Guard soldiers.
Coming Home

Jessica Ellington is silent as she browses through photographer Mark McCoy’s images of the day she returned home from Iraq after a nine-month deployment. On that sunny morning last November, Ellington, 26, was riding atop a fire truck, the eighth vehicle in a parade that brought home more than 300 Tri-State soldiers deployed with the 76th Infantry Brigade of the Indiana National Guard.

She smiles as she looks through McCoy’s photographs of Evansvillians waving colorful banners and American flags, welcoming the troops home. But what brings her to tears are the images of aging veterans of wars gone by, standing alongside the road in uniform, silently saluting Ellington and her unit as they drove past.

“That’s the most heartbreaking thing,” she says, wiping tears from her eyes. “Those veterans showed us so much support that they never received.”

Nine years ago, when Ellington — now a corporal — enlisted in the National Guard, traveling to Iraq wasn’t exactly in her game plan. At 17, the petite blonde was determined to pay her own way through college, so she enlisted for the promise of tuition money. She graduated from the University of Southern Indiana’s nursing program and took a job as a registered nurse at St. Mary’s, working in the cardiac telemetry unit, where she monitors heart patients recovering from surgery.

In 2007, she learned that her National Guard detachment, the 113th Support Battalion, would be deployed to Iraq that December as part of the 76th Infantry Brigade (which includes the Evansville-based 163rd Field Artillery, Jasper’s 151st Infantry Battalion, and other Indiana National Guard units) to provide convoy security. It marked the largest deployment of Hoosier guardsmen since World War II. Along with the 3,400 other guardsmen serving with the 76th Brigade — some of whom had already been deployed several times since the war on terror began in 2001 — Ellington joined the multitude of Indiana soldiers to serve in the Middle East.

Her biggest fear: leaving her young daughter, Brianna, then only 6. But leaving her in the care of her mother, Dana Mills, Ellington hoped Brianna would be old enough to understand. “All her life, she’s been used to me being part of the Guard and being gone on weekends,” says Ellington. She left for Iraq with a stuffed animal from Brianna, who had recorded a voice message on a memory chip tucked inside the toy telling her mother to “sleep tight” and that she loved her.

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