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Fort Campbell Welcomes Home 285 More Soldiers from the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade

 

Fort Campbell KY, 101st Airborne DivisionFort Campbell, KY – Yesterday Fort Campbell welcomed 285 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.

The suddenly cold weather was a topic on everyone’s minds as they waited for the airplane to arrive. Heavy coats and loves were scattered about the families as they waited for the time to head outside to see the plane bearing their loved ones home touchdown.

Two women hiding under a blanket from the biting cold as they wait for the flight to land

Two women hiding under a blanket from the biting cold as they wait for the flight to land

Not long ago 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.

The air plane is sighted

The air plane is sighted

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. Cold weather and high winds combined to make this one of the most uncomfortable flights to watch come in.  By the time the flight landed, and the soldiers finally disembarked my legs had gone numb. The temperature was 23° F with the windchill hovering around 0° F.  As he headed out to greet the incoming plane Maj. Gen. James C. McConville joked “It’s like a brisk summer day in New England out here.”

The Aircraft Lands

The Aircraft Lands

A soldier waves to his family

A soldier waves to his family

The flight touched down at 7:49am 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 all filed past, 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.

The newly returned soldiers stand before their families and loved ones

The newly returned soldiers stand before their families and loved ones

Maj. Gen. James McConville, Commander of the 101st Airborne Division

Maj. Gen. James McConville, Commander of the 101st Airborne Division

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. He addresses the soldiers to thank them for the success of their mission in Afghanistan, the families for their sacrifices during the last year.

As I stood out on the ramp today it reminded me of a brisk summer day in New England. What struck me though was what a privilege it is to serve in the 101st Airborne Division. It is a privilege because we get to serve with soldiers like the ones before you, who have done an absolutely outstanding job in Afghanistan, please join me in giving them a hand!

The crowd was only too happy to oblige and when they settled down again he continued.

We can count on our soldiers to always get the mission done, they never quit, they never accept defeat, they never leave anyone behind. I am just so proud to be a part of this team. As I stood out there today, I am so proud of families, our friends, and our community who are here no matter what time, no matter what the weather is so; so I am going to give you all a hand in the stands because you have stood by your soldiers steadfast through 12 months of the deployment.

After the applause settled down, the General then closed his speech as he always does with a reminder for the soldiers to continue to look out for each other.

The ceremony concludes with the 101st Airborne Division band playing the Division Song and the Army Song as the soldiers and families sing along. Finally, the soldiers are dismissed concluding the ceremony.

He's home!

He's home!

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 sixth flight of soldiers from the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade to return home. The 3000 plus soldiers of the Brigade should be completely home in the next few months. There are flights currently scheduled to arrive on Monday and Friday.

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.


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