BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County residents will have several opportunities in the coming days to show their support for the services rendered by local military members and their families.
The events will run the spectrum of emotions from the joy of a welcome home celebration for returning soldiers to the sadness of a community roadside salute to a fallen hero.
On Sunday morning, the public is invited to a welcome home party at Nature Coast Technical High School for the Florida Army National Guard unit based in Brooksville.
The event will honor the members of Company C of the 1-244th Assault Helicopter Battalion, a 10-ship assault helicopter company composed of UH-60L "Blackhawk" helicopters.
"As our loved ones flew off to Iraq from the Brooksville Armory, you were there," wrote the family readiness group in an open letter to supporters. "You did not just wave a flag and go on your merry way; you stayed with us for the long haul. We were in this together."
The unit was deployed from February 2004 to February 2005 and from May 2008 to April, a total of 23 months away from their families.
The celebration will begin with the "Freedom Salute" and awards ceremony at 10 a.m. in the gymnasium. Additional activities will take place in the sports complex behind the school. Attendees are invited to join the unit for refreshments, a static helicopter display, an inflatable bounce house and other family events.
Later Sunday, the mood will be somber as residents are invited to attend a visitation service for Army Spc. Justin Coleman, 21, of Hernando Beach, who was killed in action July 24 in Afghanistan.
Visitation will be from 2 to 8 p.m. at Downing Funeral Home, 1214 Wendy Court, off U.S. 19 in Spring Hill.
After a 10 a.m. service Monday at Downing Funeral Home, a procession will leave the funeral home and head north to Cortez Boulevard, then east on Cortez to Interstate 75. From there, the procession will go to the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell, where burial will take place at 12:30 p.m.
The public is encouraged to stand along the procession route with American flags to show support for Coleman and his family.
Coleman's father, Dean Coleman, said earlier that his son had said his unit was looking for a missing Army soldier who walked off his base in June. Army Sgt. 1st Class William Kamer, a casualty assistance officer for the Coleman family, said the unit's duties in the area would support this assertion. But a spokeswoman at Fort Drum, where Coleman was stationed, would not confirm the nature of the mission.
Kamer initially said three other members of Coleman's unit also died in the attack, but those soldiers died four days earlier, according to the Pentagon.
Times staff writer John Frank contributed to this report. Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at sl [email protected]