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Fort Campbell, KY – It started with an announcement moments after arriving at the airfield, “Flight 92012 is one hour out.”
The friends and family members of the soldiers scheduled to arrive home from Afghanistan began to cheer wildly. Their excited murmurs filling the air.
They gathered together in small groups each one relating stories of their own loved one. Parents telling stories of when they were young, and wifes telling tales of being a military spouse. Many of the family members had friends on hand to offer moral support as they waited for the flight to arrive.
One soldier’s family had brought fake trucker mustaches which they planned to wear when greeting their loved one, the idea grew out of a joke where the he had once told them that he had grown a mustache while out on a deployment; so they planned to surprise him.
The soldiers returning from deployment had missed out on a year in the lives of their families. This is a huge sacrifice most people could not imagine. Some fathers had new born children that they had never seen before except in pictures sent in lovingly crafted letters and emails. Others had missed out on pivotal moments, the first step, the first word, the first tooth; moments never to be captured again. These soldiers feel the mission they are doing is important enough for them to justify the price of time lost while they were away from home.
Jason Orban’s family was on hand waiting for him, Barb Orban his mother, Katie Little and Amy Michaels loving aunts, and Sharon Wirgau a cousin, all from up north. “He’s awesome for what he is doing, ” said his mom Barb. She had no idea when he was growing up that he would enlist in the Army. “I always thought he would become a baseball player” she said. His Aunt Katie added “We are so proud of his service protecting our country.” This was Jason’s second tour, his first was in Iraq.
The metallic voice again sounded, “Flight 92012 is one 45 minutes out.”
Some of the soldiers were called upon to pay even larger prices. Some bear wounds from the sometimes viscous combat they encountered during their time in the war zone, while other soldiers and their families were called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice for their Country.
“Flight 92012 is 30 minutes out.” the PA said.
Deanna McLaughlin is a member of the Clarksville, TN City Council. Even though she did not personally have anyone on the flight, she was on hand, eager to welcome soldiers returning home. She told me that she tends to focus on those soldiers who don’t have family members on hand waiting for them “The soldiers I see standing alone, those are the ones I go up to and personally welcome home,” she said. As a former militiary spouse, McLaughlin feels a deep responsibility to ensure that these soldiers know that they too are welcome home.
Other representatives of local government on hand included Montgomery County’s Phil Harpel, and Elizabeth Black.
A different voice announced “Flight 92012 is 15 minutes out.” It was a military chaplin. He wanted to give the families a briefing so that they too knew what to expect.
After the Soldiers deplane, they will form up outside of the facility. Soldiers will then march into the facility for a brief (3-5 minute) ceremony. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the Soldiers and families will spend about 15 minutes together. Following that, Soldiers will go back into formation to board buses. While they are boarding buses to go to their unit to turn in weapons and other sensitive items, families will be briefed on reintegration issues, and then returned to their vehicles. Strip maps will be provided, showing the location of the unit area where the Soldier can be picked up once weapons turn-in is completed.
Then the families were invited to go outside to await the plane.
“There it is,” a shout rang out, as a sharp eyed family member sighted the plane on approach. The family members started cheering, as the plane landed and approached the disembarking area many family members exchanged hugs, others pointed and talked excitedly amongst themselves. More cheers erupted as the doors of the plane began to open.
A receiving line had been assembled at the foot of the boarding stairs. The first soldier appeared proceeded down the stairs with his comrades pouring out of the plane behind him. Reaching the bottom of the stairs, and passing the receiving lines the soldiers headed for the hanger. Each one looking for those special people who were waiting on them to return.
As each soldier spotted their loved ones they broke into the biggest grins that you can imagine. Anticipation of their pending reunion foremost in their minds.
They continued to an assembly area to drop off their gear and to form up to triumphantly enter the hanger.
The signal was given and the hanger doors were slowly pushed open, soldiers visible just outside. When the doors were open far enough to admit the formation they quickly marched forward into the hanger. The cheering was non-stop. When the formation reached the center point of the hanger they came to a stop.
The ceremony included a prayer and a few remarks by Maj. Gen. Francis “Frank” J. Wiercinski.
Then it was time for the soldiers to get to find and visit with their families. It’s a common saying that a picture speaks a thousand words, and so I am going to let the pictures speak for me on this portion of the Welcome Home Ceremony. They say more than I ever could.
The returning soldiers will be going through a week long training and screenings designed to help identify soldiers with potential emotional, spiritual or physical issues. Then they will be given time to “decompress and take some time off.”
The soldiers are part of the 101st Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team “Task Force Rakkasans” and are returning from a 12 month deployment in Afghanistan where they were engaged in the full spectrum of military operations from engaging the enemy to helping the people of the Khowst, Paktya and Paktika Provinces develop sustainable government and infrastructure. The return of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team’s Advance team is beginning of the return of the 17,000 soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division from Afghanistan, they are expected to be fully back in the United States by early summer.
Tips for Military families after a deployment.
Military families look forward to being together after a long deployment with many mixed emotions. Each family member will have different expectations. Every family situation is different. But, it is important to remember the needs and feelings of the returning family member, the adult at home and the children.
Understanding the Returning Family Member
Understanding the Adult that Stayed at Home
Understanding the Children
Understanding the Family
Reunion of a military family after a long deployment is a cause for celebration. Some patience and understanding will go a long way to help the whole family successfully reunite with a minimum of problems. While most families cope successfully with the stress of the deployment and reunion, problems can develop. If significant problems develop, the family should seek help from a qualified mental health professional.
For more information on dealing with combat stress, see the Soldier Combat Stress Reaction: A pocket guide for spouse and loved ones
Topics101st Airborne Division, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, Afghanistan, AUSA, Deanna McLaughlin, Elizabeth Black, Fort Campbell KY, Iraq, Khowst Province, Paktika Province, Paktya Province, Phil Harpel, Rakkasans, Task Force Rakkasan, U.S. Army, Welcome Home Ceremony
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