GARY | An Indiana National Guard unit that lost six members of its company during a nearly yearlong deployment in Afghanistan returned Wednesday to Northwest Indiana.

Eighty-nine members of the Valparaiso-based 713th Engineer Company were greeted by about 300 relatives and friends as the unit arrived at the Gary Army Aviation Support Facility at the Gary/Chicago International Airport.

“There were a whole lot of happy families,” said Guard spokeswoman Lt. Col. Cathy Van Bree. “It was a warm reception, for sure.”

Six members of the unit were killed in action and a seventh was injured during the unit's deployment in Afghanistan.

But the focus of Wednesday’s event was on those who made it home.

Van Bree said the unit's return was "appropriately emotional." She says the guard is proud of the unit's service and happy that they're back in Indiana.

Among those on hand to welcome the troops was Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson.

“It was a very emotional and humbling experience to welcome our troops back from Afghanistan today," said Freeman-Wilson. “It is because of them that we continue to enjoy our many freedoms.”

The company's mission involved patrolling roads and clearing away roadside bombs in Kandahar Province for 10 1/2 months.

The dangerous work took its toll on the unit.

Sgt. Brian Leonhardt, 21, of Merrillville; Spc. Christopher Patterson, 20, a Valparaiso University student from Aurora, Ill.; and Spc. Robert Tauteris Jr, 44, of Hamlet, Ind., were killed Jan. 6 when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb while serving with the 713th Engineer Co. in Afghanistan. Staff Sgt. Jonathan Metzger, 32, of Indianapolis, also was killed by the roadside bomb.

Spc. Doug Rachowicz, of Hammond, was badly injured.

Spc. Sergio E. Perez, 21, of Schererville, and Spc. Nicholas A. Taylor, 20, of Berne, Ind., were killed during an attack in July that included fire from rocket-propelled grenades and small arms.

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