WASHINGTON – When the 372nd Military Police Company came home in August after a scandal-tainted tour guarding Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the Western Maryland-based unit only got a low-key welcome at Fort Lee, Va.
That didn’t sit well with the folks in Cumberland, who have planned a community welcome-home party Friday night for the Army Reserve based at nearby Cresaptown.
“The thing with the prison was unfortunate, but it shouldn’t mar their record,” said Bill Crawford, president of the Western Potomac Chapter of the Red Cross, which is organizing the event. “That’s how we feel. We welcome you home anyway.”
The 180 men and women of the 372nd became embroiled in the prison abuse scandal earlier this year when pictures were released showing several members of the company apparently humiliating Iraqi prisoners.
Seven members of the unit have been arrested on charges relating to the abuse, and two, Spec. Jeremy C. Sivits and Staff Sgt. Ivan L. Frederick, have pleaded guilty. Sivits is currently serving a one-year prison term in Germany; Frederick is awaiting court-martial in October.
In Cumberland, many people attribute the scandal to “a few bad apples.”
“You can’t judge the entire unit by a few people,” said Linda Pluta, who describes herself as an “Army brat” whose father did two tours in Vietnam.
Pluta, the chief executive officer of the city’s Realtors association, said that, like many other locals, she has put a yellow-ribbon magnet on the back of her car as a sign of solidarity with the troops.
The publicity over the scandal has had little impact on the community, Pluta said.
“People are moving here in droves,” she said. “A lot of people realize you can’t judge a whole community by a few people.”
Lifelong resident Terry Crawford, owner of the Crab Alley Seafood restaurant in downtown Cumberland, is equally supportive.
“The ones that caused the problem weren’t actually from Cumberland,” he said. “The guys that went over made a huge sacrifice. We’re glad they made it back.”
Other Cumberland residents who planned to participate in Friday’s welcome home were close-lipped about the party and their role in it. Margaret Melotti, speaking for the local chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America, said the group was not talking to the press.
Crawford, of the Red Cross, said the vets will present commemorative pins to members of the 372nd and to any other veterans at the event. Local officials will also welcome the troops during a public ceremony at the downtown mall, followed by a closed party for the soldiers and their families, with food, drinks and door prizes donated by 35 local businesses.
“Everybody has been willing to” contribute to the party, Crawford said. “They’re glad to have the opportunity to do something for them.”
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