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Community plans yellow-ribbon welcome for troops

The imminent return of local National Guardsmen from Afghanistan has sparked an effort in Grants Pass to fly yellow ribbons to welcome the soldiers home.

"These are small town guys doing big time stuff over there," said Julie Thomas, owner of Concierge Home & Business Watch and one of the organizers of the yellow ribbon effort. "They can see they're not forgotten."

One of the soldiers coming home works for Thomas, a former Grants Pass police officer who also taught community policing all over the U.S. and in war-torn Kosovo.

On Thursday, Thomas helped neighboring business owner Dave Kelly, owner of Kelly's Automotive Service, change the lettering on Kelly's marquee to read, "Welcome home troops!"

"We want them to know we're happy they're home safe," Kelly said.

Also on Thursday, the Grants Pass & Josephine County Chamber of Commerce sent a message to its members asking them to display welcome home symbols. There's also discussion of decking out the Caveman statue near Sixth Street and Morgan Lane, next to chamber offices.

About 300 soldiers from the region, including about 80 stationed at the Grants Pass Armory near Merlin, went to Afghanistan last year. They left the area in July.

The soldiers are part of the Oregon Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry Regiment, 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, headquartered in Ashland with units in Grants Pass, Medford, Roseburg, Coos Bay and St. Helens.

A National Guard spokesman on Thursday said for security reasons the arrival date of the soldiers would not be announced until about a day in advance.

It was previously announced only that the soldiers would arrive in late June, with a demobilization ceremony set for Aug. 8. About 70 soldiers from the unit already returned to the region last month.

Reach reporter Shaun Hall at 541-474-3813 or shall@thedailycourier.com