About 150 3rd Infantry Division soldiers representing the first main body redeployment of the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, were welcomed home by cheering friends and family members Friday at Fort Stewart’s Cottrell Field.
Many family members could hardly wait for their soldiers, who were returning from Afghanistan, to arrive and were already pacing the field in front of the reviewing stand.
Parker Olson, 2, paused for a moment to play in the grass in front of the Vietnam Veterans of America, who were holding up their welcome-home banner. He then raced into the darkness, forcing his grandmother, Sandy Olson, to chase after him. She said he was eager to see his dad, Pfc. Jerald Olson.
A young Marine, Lance Corp. Ryan Wigal, stood tall, glaring into the darkness across the field, waiting to see the returning troops, especially his dad, Sgt. Rod Wigal.
“He doesn’t know I’m here,” said Wigal, a field radio operator stationed at Twenty-Nine Palms, Calf. “My mom and brother are here, too.”
Wigal, who has been in the Marine Corps about 20 months, said he expects to deploy sometime next year.
After seeing the long line of buses turning down Sixth Street with a military police escort, the crowds went wild. More families seemed to be lining up on the field than in the bleachers.
Finally, the 3rd ID band began playing a marching song to indicate the troops were in formation and would soon march out of the darkness. The crowds grew even louder.
When the soldiers reached the reviewing stand, everyone went quiet for the national anthem and invocation.
“We’re so proud and so glad to see you,” said Col. John Hort, 3rd ID deputy commanding general-rear. “That’s all I’m going to say because I know you’re ready to see your families.”
After singing the Marne Song and the Army Song, families were told, “Go get your soldier.”
Thanks to the light from the reviewing stand, finding that soldier was a little easier. Tracy Vasquez found her boyfriend, Staff Sgt. Anthony James, who took her by the hand and hurried toward the parking lot. He said he had to get his rucksack and duffle bag.
Wearing his child-size Army Combat Uniform and waving a miniature American flag, Tyler Shaw, 4, sat on the shoulders of his father, 1st Lt. Justin Shaw.
Shaw’s wife, Sara, noted their daughter Kaitlyn was asleep in her stroller as it was past her bedtime.
“It’s outstanding to be back,” said Shaw, an armor officer with three combat tours. This was his second tour in Afghanistan, he said.
“I’m excited. I’m happy. There are just so many emotions at one time,” his wife said. “We were actually here two years ago when he came home from Iraq.”
Soldiers with the 1/30th Inf. will continue redeploying during the coming week, said Kevin Larson, Fort Stewart public-affairs officer.
He added that a few soldiers serving as advance party for the 1st Battalion, 64th Armor will return today.