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04-22-07, 09:08 AM
Heroes' welcome

Burlington County Times

Yesterday marked a very special homecoming for at least four Burlington County residents who returned safely from a tour of duty in Iraq.

Chief Warrant Officer Gerry Brinkmann of Medford, Lance Cpl. Brandin Whitham of Delanco, Lance Cpl. Brian Genk of Evesham and Gunnery Sgt. Carl Chambers of Pemberton Township received a hero's welcome yesterday from friends and family who gathered to greet the Marines.

Brinkmann, a platoon commander for the 3rd Battalion, 14th Marines Regiment, based out of Philadelphia, arrived home yesterday with his entire battalion: four busloads of Marines. Brinkmann was deployed in Iraq for eight months.

More than 150 people gathered at Freedom Park on Union Street in Medford as Brinkmann arrived with a Medford police escort from Philadelphia.

Brinkmann was unaware of the welcome that was planned.

“This is unbelievable,” he told the crowd while his wife, Melissa, a teacher and cheerleading coach at Seneca High School in Tabernacle, stood by his side. “You have no idea how much this touches a warrior's heart; to come into his hometown and see this kind of support.”

Brinkmann received pro-clamations from county and township officials.

Veterans groups and township police officers and firefighters, as well as representatives from the Burlington County Firefighters Association were also on hand to honor Brinkmann.

“My job was very easy,” Brinkmann told the crowd. “My job was made extremely easy through all of your hard work.”

“My team was so successful and I was able to come home today because each one of my Marines held the honor, the courage and the commitment that all of you have passed on to them,” he said.

Meanwhile, about 60 family members gathered in Delanco yesterday to welcome Whitham home from Iraq. Whitham, 25, is a Willingboro police officer and was stationed in Trenton in the Marines. He spent 71/2 months in Iraq.

While he was overseas, Whitham's family helped decorate the home on Union Avenue he purchased with his girlfriend. Yesterday was the first time Whitham saw his new house.

“It feels great (to be home),” Whitham said yesterday during a phone interview. “We (the Marines) are very grateful that everyone back at home has been so supportive.”

In Evesham, about 100 people gathered at the Wiley Church on East Main Street yesterday to welcome Genk, who served in the Iraqi city of Fallujah.

The church was decorated with 100 yellow ribbons by the Yellow Ribbon Club of Evesham, which sends care packages to troops.

In Pemberton Township, Chambers, 39, arrived to his home in the Country Lakes section of the township to find that his friends, family and church community had pitched in to make improvements to the house while he was away.

Bob Woodruff, a family friend, said members of the First Baptist Church of Medford helped paint Chambers' home, landscape his property and pave his driveway.

“I'm speechless,” Chambers said. “I don't know how to put my thanks into words. I'll never be able to thank them enough for what they've done.”

Several area businesses donated supplies or gave discounts to help with the project.

Chambers said more than 100 Marine reservists were escorted by police from Trenton. He called it “the best homecoming I've ever had.”

“This day isn't just for Carl,” Woodruff said. “It's for all the troops and it's a statement that says we appreciate them and what they're doing for us.”

“The fact that he's home safe makes us very happy,” Woodruff said.


April 22, 2007 7:00 AM