National Guard to Welcome Home Troops with Big Ceremony at War Memorial Stadium

MARCH 15, 2005 - Posted at 4:04 a.m. CST

LITTLE ROCK, AR - The Arkansas National Guard says it will use Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium for a ceremony to welcome home Guard and Reserve troops returning from Iraq.

The celebration will be May 21.

About 3,000 troops will march onto War Memorial field to start the ceremony.  Speakers will make remarks and there will be a tribute to Arkansans who died in the war.  The troops will be dismissed before a free barbeque lunch is served to the soldiers, their spouses and children.  Soldiers can bring as many people to the event as they like.  But officials say that only the soldiers and their immediate families will receive the free lunch.

Lunch is to be followed by a live concert, but the name of the featured act has not yet been released.

While the timing is tied to the return of the 39th Brigade, the Guard says the celebration is for any reserve service member who has mobilized or deployed since September 11, 2001.

Since that date, the Arkansas National Guard has deployed about 6,000 of its 10,000 soldiers and airmen.  Since the start of the war in March 2003, twenty-three Arkansas soldiers have been killed in Iraq.

The Guard expects to fill War Memorial Stadium and serve the free lunch to about 18,000 people.  The event is not publicly funded and is being supported by several local merchants and Arkansas companies.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)