Soldier returns to big celebration

Lt. Col. Larry Rentz Sr. is a former county teacher and band director

Lt. Col. Larry Rentz, left, enjoys a laugh with his mother, Carol Strickland, during his homecoming celebration on Saturday.

AUNDRE LARROW/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 6:47 p.m.

The atmosphere at a gathering to welcome Lt. Col. Larry Rentz Sr. back to the U.S. was a lot different than the atmosphere he endured while stationed in Afghanistan for more than nine months with the U.S. Army.

The difference was that the atmosphere at the welcome home gathering for Rentz held Saturday afternoon at the Fraternal Order of Police Gator Lodge No. 67 just east of North Main Street was filled with family and friends showing him love and adoration, while the atmosphere at the detention facility for enemy combatants he helped to oversee in Afghanistan was filled with some of the most dangerous men in the world.

"I was an operations officer for a military police brigade, and we ran a detention facility where enemy combatants and those fighting against the Afghanistan government and U.S. forces were held when they were captured and were turned over to us," said Rentz, after he had been serenaded by family members and friends during a program held in his honor.

Dressed in a formal blue U.S. Army uniform decorated with numerous medallions, Rentz, 43, sat at the head table with his wife, Petita, and two children, Larry Rentz Jr., who turned 14 on Saturday, and Pamela Rentz, 12. He and his wife will be celebrating their 16th wedding anniversary on Friday.

Rentz visibly enjoyed the performances honoring his service to his country, which included a karate presentation by Maya Strickland, one of his young cousins, and a dance routine by The Royal Dancers of Gainesville.

He was also thanked for his service by his cousin, Akiyla McQueen of Tallahassee, who sang "Thank You Lord," and with an instrumental solo by another cousin, Craig Beacham of Tallahassee, who played "Summertime" on a tenor saxophone.

Beacham, who was a drum major in the Florida A&M University Marching 100 from 2007-2010, said it was Rentz, also a former member of the Marching 100, who inspired him to want to be a part of the famed Marching 100.

After the program, a hearty meal was served that included barbecue ribs, baked and green beans, chicken, cole slaw, hamburgers, hot dogs, purlieu rice, salad and more.

Rentz graduated from Gainesville High School in 1987 and attended FAMU in Tallahassee on a ROTC scholarship. He graduated from FAMU in 1992 with a bachelor's degree in music. He was the band director at Eastside High School from 1998-2001, after serving as music teacher and band director from 1993-1998 at Fort Clarke Middle School.

Rentz, who has been an officer in the Army for 20 years as an active duty member and a reservist, said he returned to the U.S. early last week and was looking forward to going to Disney World this week in Orlando with his family for a couple of days before reporting to his next assignment at The Pentagon in Washington, D.C., to work in the Army's Office of the Provost Marshall General as a staff officer. He said his duties there will include overseeing special projects.

Rentz's mother, Carol Strickland of Gainesville, said she was glad to have her son back home in the U.S.

"I am very proud of my son," said Strickland, while taking a break from serving food. "He left and went to Afghanistan and though he had been to a lot of other countries, Afghanistan was the one I had the hardest time dealing with because there were so many things going on there. He's been to Bosnia, Egypt and Iraq, but him going to Afghanistan was the hardest thing for me to deal with. So when he came back home, I thought we would throw a big celebration to honor him and what he accomplished while he was there. I am so happy that he is back home safely and I am so happy that so many of our family and friends came to share in this moment with us."

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