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Fort Campbell’s 159th Combat Aviation Brigade Welcomes Home 283 More Soldiers Just in Time for Valentine’s Day

 

Wedding proposals adds a Valentine’s Day sparkle during soldier’s return from Afghanistan

Fort Campbell KY, 101st Airborne DivisionFort Campbell, KY – On Monday, Fort Campbell welcomed 283 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 soldiers arrived home just one day before the most romantic day of the year, Valentine’s Day! So, I knew that this was going to be one of the good one’s, and I wasn’t in the least bit disappointed.

Soldier's walk to the hanger after disembarking from the aircraft

Soldier's walk to the hanger after disembarking from the aircraft

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.

Families wait for the aircraft bringing their loved ones home to land

Families wait for the aircraft bringing their loved ones home to land

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 weather was still cold but the absence of the wind from the other morning made this day somewhat more comfortable.

The aircraft touches down

The aircraft touches down

The flight touched down at 9:45am 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 returning soldiers proudly stand before their families and friends

The returning soldiers proudly stand before their families and friends

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.

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.

Welcome home, it’s great to have you back! Congratulations on a job well done!  When you left here about 12 months ago, you wore the Screaming Eagle patch on your left shoulder. You could only wear that patch if you are in the Screaming Eagle Division, and now forever after a job well done you can wear that patch on your right soldier. The patch that most people think is the most famous division patch in the world. Congratulations  on a job very very well done. Please join me in giving them a hand.

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

Your families have been strong, air assault strong while you have been gone; and you now have one shopping day until Valentine’s Day. So a little guidance, a little guidance here. You’ve  got one day to take care of your spouses, your families who have withstood this deployment; and quite frankly you couldn’t do what you do without them. So please remember them tomorrow.

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.

A soldier reunited with his family

A soldier reunited with his family

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.

PFC. Chris West proposing to his girlfriend Jordan Morris the day before Valentine's Day

PFC. Chris West proposing to his girlfriend Jordan Morris the day before Valentine's Day

With Valentine’s Day just one day away, you knew that there would be joyous reunions for those who have been separated form one another for so long.  Two wedding proposals were in the works.  When the soldiers were dismissed,  PFC. Christopher West rushed over to where his mother Hilda Eppard, and girlfriend Jordan Morris were waiting for him and his father in-law CW3 Shawn Eppard who also returned on this flight to find them.

Unknown to Jordan, Chris had pre-arranged with his mother for her to to slip him a wedding ring as they hugged, which she did with the skill of a magician. Chris then went over to greet his girlfriend holding the ring behind her back.  After hugging and kissing his girlfriend for a few minutes Chris dropped to one knee and proposed to her. After a moment of shock, her radiant smile gave all the answer Chris would ever need. But she followed it up with an “Oh yes!”

One other couple also proposed during their reunion; but they didn’t wish to talk to the media, and we shall respect their privacy.

A soldier stands with his loved ones

A soldier stands with his loved ones

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 Seventh 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 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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