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Soldiers honored at Atlanta Motor Speedway

More than 20 Soldiers from the 3rd Medical Command received a special honor on Sunday during ceremonies before the start of the Atlanta Motor Speedway's Pep Boys 500 race last weekend.

Capt. Herb Emory and Huntsville USA honored soldiers who recently returned from Iraq on center stage near the winners' circle. The unit also provided the color guard for the race.

The soldiers were allowed to sit in on the drivers' meeting, meet the drivers and celebrities attending the race, pose for photos with drivers and receive thanks from hundreds of NASCAR fans.

"It turned out to be a near-perfect day for our troops," said Maj. Bobby Hart, the 3d MEDCOM public affairs officer, who initiated talks with the track over the summer. "Greg Walter, Dan Rexrode and all the folks at Atlanta Motor Speedway were great to work with. They and the fans at the race made our Soldiers feel like rock stars," Hart said.

The soldiers were introduced before the race and received a lengthy standing ovation from the crowd as the announcer read the accomplishments of the unit during its recent deployment.

"NASCAR has a history of being pro-military," Hart said. "Being a part of this race and seeing the reaction the fans had to our soldiers in uniform definitely was special. It was a great chance for us to spread the word about 3d MEDCOM and the Army Reserve, but more importantly, to give our soldiers a chance to experience something they will remember for a lifetime."

While in Iraq, 3d MEDCOM provided the full spectrum of medical care troops in Iraq. Its 30-plus units and 3,200 soldiers and airmen took care of everything from combat-support hospitals and combat-stress control to veterinarian services.

The unit's efforts helped injured American troops survive their wounds at a rate greater than 90 percent -- the highest survivability rate in the history of warfare.

"It was great to be honored," said Sgt. Travis Herndon, Operations NCO. "Coming back from Iraq and hearing the applause from the crowd was a good feeling," he said.

The one downside to the day was when the U.S. Army car, which was driven by Mark Martin, who spent considerable time speaking with soldiers before the race, was involved in an early crash and finished 43rd.

"I had fun. It was a blast," said Master Sgt. Norah Rentillo.

- Special to the Clayton News Daily