The families of more than 50 soldiers assigned to the 24th Ordnance Company, 87th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, got an early Christmas gift Tuesday with the return of their loved ones from Iraq.
Prior to their soldiers’ arrival at Fort Stewart’s Newman Fitness Center, friends and family members filled the bleachers, waving tiny American flags and large posters to welcome home the troops as the 3rd ID band provided patriotic music and a video montage of the soldiers rolled. In addition to CSSB Commander Lt. Col. Lance C. Curtis and Command Sgt. Maj. Cynthia Howard, the soldiers were welcomed by the Liberty chapter of the Vietnam Veterans Association.
Children like Leilani Morales, 4, her sister, Kayla, 3, and brother TJ, 9, eagerly raced in circles, weaving between the adults who towered over them. Their mother, MaiLing Morales, tried to keep her children together as she held a poster for her husband, Sgt. Israel Morales.
Mia Vogan, 4, sat quietly in mother Robyn’s lap while Mia’s brothers, Sean, 6, and Jacob, 4, leaned back on their bleacher seats, occasionally waving flags while peering at the animated crowd gathering for the soldiers’ imminent return.
Families visited and made small talk as they waited. Sgt. Secorah Arbuckle, a 24th Ordnance soldier who only recently returned from Iraq, introduced her daughter, Alyssa, 3, to Megan White and her son, Ben, 5 months. White said her husband, Pfc. TJ White, was able to meet their son just before he was deployed four months ago.
Kagan Wagner said her husband, Spc. Adam Wagner, left for Iraq thinking his wife was going to have a boy. Kagan Wagner waited for her husband with a double-sided poster that both welcomed and enlightened him. One side of the poster read, “Welcomed home, daddy, Spc. Wagner;” the other side read, “Surprise! It’s a girl!”
“Just before Adam left, I’d had an ultrasound done, and they were pretty sure I was going to have a boy,” she explained as she patted her swollen stomach. “The umbilical cord partially was blocking the view at that time, but they thought they could tell it was a boy. I just had another ultrasound done though, and, well, she’s all girl.”
As the buzz of the crowd grew to a roar, an announcement was made and the soldiers marched into the gymnasium, causing onlookers to go wild. The ceremony attendees stopped screaming and whistling only long enough to observe the national anthem and listen to Curtis’ brief welcome home speech. After everyone to sang the “Dog Face Soldiers” song, the troops were reunited with their family and friends.
“It’s great to be back,” Morales said as he gathered his children and wife to him. His sentiments were echoed by the Wagners, Whites, Vogans and all the other soldiers’ families who were thrilled to be able to spend Christmas with their loved ones.