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Veterans Day features soldiers return home, ceremonies, parade
3rd ID commanding general part of last group back from Afghanistan; colors uncased on post
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Family members hug and greet their soldiers on Fort Stewarts Cottrell Field on Wednesday during the last homecoming ceremony for 3rd Infantry Division headquarters soldiers, who were deployed for a year to Afghanistan. - photo by Cailtin Kenney

The final flight of soldiers from 3rd Infantry Division’s headquarters, who served in Afghanistan with U.S. Forces – Afghanistan mission, came home on Veterans Day, fitting for the newest generation of veterans.

Every soldiers’ homecoming event feels like Veterans Day, as people dress in patriotic clothing, wave American flags and hold signs, eagerly anticipating their loved ones’ arrival. The excitement was evident as children ran around laughing and soldiers chattered enthusiastically as they waited for their buddies to return.

During the yearlong deployment to Afghanistan, the soldiers acted as “a command and control element as a U.S. National Support Element, within U.S. Forces-Afghanistan,” according to a Fort Stewart press release. They also were in charge of conducting operations in the country as well as working with the Afghan government and the International Security Assistance Force.

Kate Sicoli, 10, was excited to see her father, Col. Peter Sicoli, come home so she can do all sorts of things, such as “go to the movies with him, hang out with him, talk about stuff and read with him.”

Kate said that what she missed most about her father being gone was “him comforting me when I get sad.”

When the bus arrived carrying the last 26 soldiers, the 3rd ID band played music as the cheers of the audience grew louder.

The soldiers marched onto Cottrell Field to the Dog Face Soldier song, with 3rd ID’s commanding general, Maj. Gen. James Rainey, and Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Gilpin leading the way.

After an invocation, the division’s colors were uncased and finally flying at home on Fort Stewart after a year in Afghanistan.

Rainey spoke briefly, first saying “thank you” to all the veterans in attendance and local community supporters of 3rd ID.

“And finally and most importantly,” Rainey said, “to all the family members of these 25 soldiers, but also everybody that completed this deployment, thank you for your love and support. It makes all the difference in the world.”

After Rainey released his soldiers, family and friends rushed the field. Small children yelled “Daddy!” and strong embraces engulfed the soldiers. The soldiers and families had completed another deployment for America’s longest war.

Sicoli, the head of operations for 3rd ID, said it was awesome to come home on Veterans Day.

“It’s an honor to be here, to see our veterans, and it’s also an honor to be back. And it’s a privilege to be back with our families,” he said.

Sicoli said he is proud of his family for holding up while he was deployed, especially his wife, “who took care of the kids in good times and tough times as I was gone.

“My hat’s off, really, to all the families that really had the tough mission as we were deployed,” he said.

“It’s tough,” he said about coming home for rest and relaxation in August and then going back to Afghanistan. “We’re used to it. This is our fourth deployment, so we’ve learned how to cope with it, but it is challenging. It never gets any easier. I think you just get used to dealing with it more and understanding the emotions that are associated with it.”

Later in the day, Hinesville celebrated Veterans Day with a parade, featuring a number of veterans’ organizations, including the American Legion Post 321, Vietnam Veterans of America Post 789, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Earlier in the day, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6602 held a Veterans Day ceremony at its building on E.G. Miles Parkway.

Bradwell Institute and Liberty County High School showcased their bands, cheerleaders and Junior ROTC programs. Children waved flags as motorcycles, horses, and a step team moved their way down Main Street.

In one day, soldiers returned home from another long overseas deployment, and a community came out to support veterans past and present.

It was another Veterans Day for a community impacted by war more than most, but joyous all the same.

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