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Army Reserve makes it official in Hammond

Peggy Hoyer, mother of Spc. Bert Hoyer for whom the facility is memorialized, cuts a ribbon in his honor.1 / 2
The 65 soldiers who deployed to Iraq were given flags, handshakes and thank yous from commanding officers during a Welcome Home Warrior-Citizen ceremony on Sunday. Family members got the same treatment.2 / 2

The new building standing just south of Ridgeway Street in Hammond is more than just a building.

Hundreds of veterans, citizens and Reservists turned out as it was memorialized as the Sfc. Dan H. Gabrielson and Spc. Bert E. Hoyer United States Army Reserve Center on Sunday. The site will serve as the new home to 122 soldiers assigned to the 652nd Engineering Company, plus support staff.

Gabrielson, of Frederic, and Hoyer, of Ellsworth, were killed in action in Iraq about seven years ago, along with two other members of the 652nd. The Hoyer and Gabrielson families were on hand for the ceremony Sunday.

"It's so great that you still remember my dad," said Vanessa Gabrielson, during her speech. "He wouldn't have wanted a building named after him... But to us that means he still matters, seven years later."

Gabrielson was the first casualty in the company since World War II. He died April 14, 2003 near Ba'qubah, Iraq. He had been in the 652nd Engineering Company for 22 years.

The Gabrielson family found out that the facility would bear his name about a month ago.

"He would have said 'Oh jeez. You don't have to make a fuss,'" Gabrielson said. "If he did anything it was just to do it ... to help somebody."

Peggy Hoyer, mother of Bert Hoyer, also spoke during the ceremony.

"We are proud of Bert. He is our hero, just like our other children," she said.

Bert, a 1999 Ellsworth High School graduate, was killed March 10, 2004 in Ba'qubah, Iraq. He had been a member of the 652nd for more than two years.

Peggy and Larry Hoyer were on hand for the groundbreaking ceremony at the site in early January 2009. They refer to the 652nd as their family.

"It's an honor. A big honor," Peggy said of her son's memorialization. "He would be proud."

In a speech Bert wrote while serving in Iraq, he wrote, "It is very unsettling when a comrade at arms is killed or injured in action. However, their lives are needed early, they are the heroes of this conflict."

Gabrielson said she's heard her dad called a hero before.

"They're not heroes because they died. They're heroes because of how they lived," Gabrielson said.

The building will serve as a lasting tribute to them and stands as an example for future warriors, another speaker noted. Plaques will hang at the center honoring the two fallen soldiers.

"Congratulations to the 652nd for this wonderful building," said Max Oleson, Army Reserve Wisconsin Ambassador. "Whenever you walk through the doors remember it wasn't just brick and mortar that went up, it was the soul and fiber of soldiers and of heroes.

The move from Ellsworth

The word used most often on Sunday to describe the move from Ellsworth to Hammond was "bittersweet."

While the soldiers will have a brand new facility all to themselves with modern conveniences, they've had a history and relationship with the Village of Ellsworth.

The 652nd Engineering Company had been located on Ellsworth's main drag first from May 1959 through November 1984, then September 1997 until Sunday.

"We had made a lot of friends," said Sfc. Raquel Didomenico, a member of the 652nd since 1998. "The community supported us a lot. We're so far away now."

"It's sad that they left Ellsworth, but change is supposed to be good," said Peggy Hoyer, a life-long resident of the village. "This facility will produce fine soldiers to protect our country."

The new 26,000-square-foot building will cover all the 652nd's needs under one roof. It includes an organizational maintenance bay with a heated floor, a work out gym, a weapons simulator, a covered wash rack for washing vehicles and adequate parking for the unit's eight-wheel drive heavy expanded mobility tactical trucks. Offices, a computer lab and a large classroom are other features.

Hoyer said she'll miss seeing signs of the 652nd -- like the flags at half staff and notes in the fence -- on her drive past the facility every day.

"Ellsworth did what it had to do but didn't have modern things," Hoyer said. She and Larry got an early tour of the building. "It is amazing."

Didomenico said it will be beneficial to the soldiers to have everything under one roof, as opposed to the three in Ellsworth.

"It's modern. There's a place for everything," she said. There's room for everyone to eat at the same time now, she added. Previously, all the soldiers couldn't eat at the same time due to space.

The commute for training weekends will be easier for most of the soldiers, the majority of which live in the Twin Cities, Didomenico said. That was something they looked at in the very early planning stages, she said. The Hammond site is only a few miles away from Interstate 94.

Hammond can have that same "home" feeling too, soldiers said.

Didomenico's advice to the Hammond area is to support the 652nd in their events, and invite them to join in the community's.

"We will come out and have a presence," Didomenico said, adding that they'll assist with events and be in parades.

Businesses will notice 652nd's visits, said Marcy Vreeman, a two-year member of the unit.

"When people wave at us, we wave back," Vreeman said.

The next regular drill weekend for the 652nd is in July.