The Soldiers were returning from a year in Kandahar, Afghanistan
Fort Campbell, KY – The 101st Airborne Division gave a joyous welcome home to the 141 soldiers from the 561st Military Police Company as they returned from a year long deployment in Kandahar, Afghanistan on the evening of Friday, July 6th, 2012.
The returning soldiers had spent the last year in Kandahar, Afghanistan building relationships with the Afghan people as they trained the Afghan Uniformed Police. “Predominately we focused on training and mentorship of the Afghan uniformed police in and around Kandahar city that includes the city limits. As recognized by the Kandahar government, but also up into to the Arghandab River Valley, and some of the outlying areas as well,” said Capt. Anthony Douglass, who up until February was the commander of the 561st Military Police Company.
He continued, “The company headquarters was located in a camp inside the city of Kandahar, while the individual elements of the company were split out to different locations in order to reach the maximum number of the Afghan Uniformed Police.” It is the relationships that they built that really stands out in his mind, “When I look back at the deployment I think about the relationships that we continually built and fostered with the Afghan police. They were Definitely a unique crowd with a very unique mission set, our goal in training and mentoring them was so that one day they will be able to provide security for themselves.”
This flight was the largest return of soldiers to Fort Campbell in the last several months. Indeed, inside the Personnel Processing Center additional seating had to be provided to accommodate the sheer number of families on hand waiting for their loved ones to return. Family and friends of the returning soldiers had gathered together at the Personnel Processing Center at Campbell Army Airfield wait for the flight to arrive, and to give their loved ones a proper welcome home.
Douglass was happy that the soldiers who were under his command were finally returning home, “We had almost 150 soldiers with us downrange; so there are a lot of family members and a lot of folks in from out-of-town welcome them home…For me personally seeing them come home at last is really a relief. I have enjoyed getting together, talking with the families, seeing how their experience being home while they are soldiers were deployed was. but I’m really just looking forward to sharing in the joy of bringing them home.”
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.
For most of those waiting had been a year since they last saw their loved ones. The pain of that separation could be felt in the words of those that I had the opportunity to speak to as they waited for the flight to arrive. The joy of their upcoming reunion really started to appear when the plane was sighted just before 7:30pm approaching the airfield as a little girl cried out, “Daddy, Daddy!”; as the soldiers disembarked from the aircraft a mother holding onto the fence separating her from her son softly said, “Now I know he’s really home safe!” just before placing her hand over her face.
After deplaning as the soldiers walked slowly to the terminal; 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 terminal to take part in the short ceremony that was all that stood between them and their loved ones.
The soldiers drop off their weapons, then the Ceremony officially begins as the soldiers march into the facility as those in the crowd cheer wildly for them.
A short prayer of thanks was given for the soldier’s return, by 101st Sustainment Brigade Chaplain Tammie Crews.
Almighty God, we thank you for the joy in anticipation of this moment that we have been waiting for, for the safe return of these soldiers. We thank you for every day when we can welcome soldiers safely back, and particularly we thank you for safe return of the 561st Military Police Company. We pray your blessings upon them, their reunion with their families, and all of the days that lie ahead. Amen!
She was followed by Maj. Gen. James C. McConville, the commander of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).
“Welcome home! And congratulations on a job well done! How about a big hand for these soldiers!” McConville began. To which the crowd responded vigorously with applause and cheers. When they finished he continued, “We are very proud of what you’ve done over the last 12 months! Everybody deserves a future, and the Afghan people are no different. What you did at Kandahar and the Arghandab has really given the Afghan people a chance for a future. And you can always take that with you. You can be very very proud of the sacrifices that you’ve made, and all of the screaming Eagles and the soldiers at Fort Campbell are very proud of what you’ve did.”
He then addressed the families, “I’d like to think the families and the friends are here tonight. This is a rowdy bunch tonight, and for a group of this size” to which they broke out in cheers again. To his soldiers he said, “You should be very proud of you families because they been unwavering in their support!” then jokingly he said, “and expensive gifts go a long way towards thanking them! Just kidding!”
Serious again McConville advised the returning soldiers that their duty wasn’t complete, “…Combat affects everybody, and life affects everybody. You’re going to enter the reintegration phase, which is a very very important part of your deployment. If you need help or one of your buddies needs help don’t be afraid to get it! We’re here to help you, we’ve got some great resources here, and I want to make sure that you take advantage of them!”
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.
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 formed back up, the soldiers marched from the terminal 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 return to their vehicles to go pick up their loved ones once their turn-in was complete.