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Fort Campbell, KY – Yesterday Fort Campbell welcomed 138 soldiers from the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade home from a year long deployment to Southern Afghanistan. The 159th Combat Aviation Brigade is one of the last major elements of the 101st Airborne Division still deployed in Afghanistan.
Family and friends of the returning soldiers had gathered together to give their loved ones a proper welcome home.
The other day I got a chance to speak with Brig. Gen Jeffery N. Colt, the Deputy Commanding General of the 101st Airborne Division for a few minutes, and I asked him how it felt to see nearly all of the 101st Airborne Division back home; as once the 159th has fully returned there will be nearly 29,000 soldiers back on Fort Campbell. “I’m excited,” he responded. “It’s special to see everybody be able to celebrate what is a tremendous achievement all the way around. It’s going to be a great thing for the Division to have a few months with everybody at home to celebrate its accomplishments, reflect on its history, and get ready to move forward again.”
When asked about the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade he said, “The 159th Aviation Brigade has been active in Southern Afghanistan undertaking a full range of missions including assaults, general support, attack aviation, scout and reconnaissance, along with security. The 101st Airborne Division’s air units are a tremendous force enabler, especially in Afghanistan given the ruggedness of the terrain and dispersion of the ground units.” He then gave some high praise to the men of the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, “Our forces on the ground are some of the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade’s biggest fans! They talk really highly about them,” he said.
15 minutes before the flight arrived the family members were allowed to proceed outdoors to wait on for a chance to see the flight bearing their loved ones arrive.
The flight touched down at 1:54am to the cheers of the soldiers loved ones. After landing the plane taxied to the disembarking point, where the passenger boarding stairs were moved in position. Cheers rose again when the door to the plane opened; and again when the first soldiers appeared in the door. After deplaning as the soldiers walked slowly to the hangar; every soldier’s eyes were focused on the crowd searching for their loved ones. The crowd was doing the same, and as those in the crowd spotted their soldier, they shouted out his or her name to attract their attention.
When the soldiers had passed, the families returned into the hangar to take part in the short ceremony that was all that stood between them and their loved ones.
The Ceremony begins with the opening of the hangar door. The soldiers march into the facility as those in the crowd cheer wildly for them.
There is a brief ceremony consisting of a short prayer of thanks for their return, followed by remarks from Maj. Gen. James McConville, Commander of the 101st Airborne Division; who when possible personally welcomes the returning soldiers back home.
“On behalf of all the Screaming Eagles past and present welcome home and congratulations on a job very very well done. Please join me in giving a hand to these great soldiers in front of us,” to which the crowd was only too happy to oblige.
He addressed the soldiers directly, ““I don’t speak very long at these ceremonies because I know that I am the only one standing between you and your loved ones, but there are a few things I would like to say. First of all our division has a history of making history, a history of making great history, and you are now a part of that history. When you walk around and wear the screaming eagle on your right shoulder you will wear that with pride because you have represented this division very very well. You ought to be very proud of that, and we are very proud of you.”
He then addressed the families thanking them for their sacrifices,“I would also like to thank the families, the spouses, and the community members who are here tonight. It is either very very late, or very very early depending on how you look at it; but what I will tell you is, it shows the support that you have on a night that it is very very cold, and very very late, the fact that you came out to welcome these great soldiers back! And we appreciate your support during the entire deployment. So lets give you all a hand!”
The General then closed his speech as he always does with a reminder for the soldiers to continue to look out for each other. “And finally You took care of each other down range, and you are back now and I want you to continue to (continue to) take care of each other. If you need some help don’t be afraid to ask for it; if your buddy needs help make sure that they get it. We wouldn’t leave anyone behind in combat, we won’t leave anyone behind here. Again a job well done, welcome home, Air Assault!”
At the conclusion of the ceremony, the Soldiers are given 20 minutes of family time which enables them to begin the reunification process with their families. It’s quite a sight to see as these brave warriors rock hard demeanor melt when they hold their children, and kiss their mothers, wives, or girlfriends for the first time in a year. Believe me, there is never a dry eye in the house.
After the visitation time is over the soldiers form back up, the soldiers march from the hanger en masse and board buses to go to their unit to turn in weapons and other sensitive items before they are released to be with their families.
The soldier’s families are then given a short brief on reintegration issues, and then returned to their vehicles. to go pick up their loved ones once their turn-in was complete.
This was the fourth flight of soldiers from the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade to return home. The 3000 soldiers of the Brigade should be completely home in the next few months. There is a flight scheduled to arrive on Saturday.
If you wish to attend a Welcome Home Ceremony, check the flight schedules online, as times are subject to change at anytime. When arriving to Fort Campbell, enter via Gate 7; if you don’t have installation stickers on your vehicle, you will be required to get a visitor pass. From there just follow the signs to the ceremony parking. Waiting buses transport family members safely to the hanger.
Topics101st Airborne Division, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, Afghanistan, Fort Campbell KY, James C. McConville, Jeffery N. Colt, Welcome Home Ceremony
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