FOLEY – Foley National Guard veterans reunited to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their deployment to Iraq and safe return.

Members of Company C of the 711th Signal Battalion met Saturday, Jan. 28 at the National Guard armory in Foley to mark the anniversary of their deployment. The city of Foley was a sponsor of the event.

The unit, which is based in Foley, was called to active service in January 2004 and returned from Iraq in February 2005.

Teddy Taylor was C Company first sergeant in Iraq. He said the unit did extremely well during its deployment.

“Company C, 711 Signal Battalion, Foley and Bay Minette was the best unit over there. I don’t mind telling anybody. We must have been the best soldiers or the best company, because we were sent up north. All the way up there,” he said.

Taylor said all 122 unit members deployed to Iraq returned home safely. As first sergeant, the safety of the soldiers was a major concern.

“I worried so much about my soldiers,” he said. “I prayed so much while I was over there not to let anything happen to my soldiers because I did not want to go to a mama or a daddy or wife or whatever it might be. I didn’t want to do that and I thank God for that.”

He said serving with the unit was a great honor.

“I was so proud to be your first sergeant. Through our leadership and through all of you supporting us, we made it happen and that’s a good thing. I can’t tell you enough about that,” he said. “I can’t thank y’all enough. You have been so awesome to me, the colonel and the United States of America. I can’t thank you enough for that and I appreciate it so much.”

Taylor said the unit also benefited from the support of family members and the community.

“We had the best support group in Foley and Bay Minette and I appreciate them so much,” he said. 

Col. Fred “Berkley” Shirah commanded the company as a captain in 2004. At the reunion, he also praised the support from local officials. Among the officials at the reunion were Jo Bonner, who is now president of the University of South Alabama and who was the U.S. congressman representing the Foley area in 2004, and Tim Russell, retired Baldwin County probate judge who was Foley mayor at the time.

“Thank you so much for your years of support for the citizens, to the community, to soldiers and to veterans,” Shirah told Bonner and Russell. “It is really appreciated and it has not gone unnoticed.”

Shirah said Russell called him soon after the unit learned it was being sent to Iraq.

“He said we want to help you. You’re not in this alone and we’ll get through this together,” Shirah said. “I remember that to this day and I really appreciate it.”

Bonner said the company’s achievements are also a reflection of the community.

“Everyone here remembers the support you received from your city as well as the bonds of friendship you all formed, the ones that brought you back here today. Everyone knows, without having to be reminded, that Foley is a red, white and blue town,” Bonner said. “It was 20 years ago when you paraded to the football stadium at Foley High School, greeted by thousands of friends, supporters and loved ones. You could literally feel the love and support in the air. It was real.”