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Soldier’s understated welcome meaningful

MANATEE — No balloons. No crowds. No speeches.

Just some hugs, handshakes and a phalanx of Patriot Guard Riders holding six American flags aloft outside King Middle School.

Pfc. Erik Hanno’s “Welcoming Home” on Wednesday was low key.

“I like it that way,” said the young Iraq combat veteran and 2003 Manatee High School graduate.

Hanno, 23, was the 10th Manatee County soldier during the previous 13 school days to receive a homecoming from Manatee Operation Troop Support, the volunteer organization based at King.

“It never gets old,” said Jim Comkowycz, the director and co-founder of MOTS. “We’re trying to be there, supporting them.”

Hanno, who’s married and has a 20-month-old daughter, appreciated it.

Just a month ago he finished a 12-month combat tour, an infantryman with the First Battalion 66th Armor Iron Knights fighting insurgents outside Sadr City.

“Worst place to be in Iraq,” Hanno said. “Explosions, firefights, lots of craziness. Half of it was hectic, then sporadic.

“So it’s good to come home, see family and not have to wear 90 pounds of gear when it’s 130 degrees in the shade.”

His mom appreciated his homecoming for another reason.

Her ex-husband, Thomas Hanno, was a Vietnam veteran.

“He was just shuffled out of the way when he came back,” said Kathy Schneeberger, 54. “To see the support of MOTS, it’s wonderful.”

Hanno’s homecoming had its moments, for sure, returning to his old stomping grounds.

“It was pretty weird walking around here and seeing how much it’s changed,” the former King student said as he toured the new campus that opened in 2006. “It doesn’t seem that long ago.”

Comkowycz, his wife Pat, and MOTS volunteers presented him with a basket of snacks as well as a gas card, gym membership and massage gift card. Even a certificate for a tattoo.

“I’ll definitely use that,” said Hanna, who already has two, same as his mom.

“Awesome,” she said.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055, or write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, FL 34206 or e-mail him at Please include a phone number for verification.