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Welcomed wave washes over post
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Staff Sgt. Barry Whitehead smiles down on his son, Ethan, 3, as they are reunited on Fort Stewart Wednesday afternoon. - photo by Lewis Levine / Coastal Courier

1st BCT Homecoming

The 3rd Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team continues redeployment.
As the buses filled with returning members of the 1st Brigade Combat Team rolled past Cottrell's Field review stands Wednesday afternoon, Stacy Whitehead sat in anticipation of the moment she would see her husband for the first time in more than six months.
Staff Sgt. Barry Whitehead was one of more than 500 soldiers in the 1st BCT who returned to Fort Stewart Wednesday and Thursday after serving a 15-month deployment in Al Anbar, Iraq. The unit worked under a Marine two-star command and helped to significantly reduce the level of violence in the one-time volatile area, according to Army spokesmen.
With the couple's two sons, 5-year-old Garrett and 3-year-old Ethan, by her side, Stacy Whitehead said this was the first time her husband had served an extended deployment.
"They're usually three to six months long," she said about her husband's four previous deployments. "And then this one was supposed to be 15 months."
But an injury suffered by Staff Sgt. Whitehead during the first month of the deployment kept him from serving the full tour and made this the most difficult deployment for the family, according to his wife.
"I'd say this was the hardest one because he came back injured," she said. "He fell off a road 40 feet and had internal bleeding, had an operation, broke part of his lower back."
Staff Sgt. Whitehead recovered at home with his family in Pooler for about seven to eight months before "it just got to the point where he felt like it was OK enough to go back" to complete the mission with his fellow soldiers.
"He's just that kind of guy," Stacy Whitehead said. "He wanted to go back and finish out the job."
The spouse said being a single mom has been challenging the last few months, but she has managed to keep the family stable, especially during the times her sons have talked about missing their father.
"I like playing with him," her oldest son, Garrett, said about what he most missed about his dad.
To keep track of when he would get to play with his father again, the youngster created his own calendar to countdown the days until Staff Sgt. Whitehead came home. Stacy said her son he was happy when he realized he was down to counting on one hand.
As the troops marched onto Cottrell Field the cheering rose to a roaring chorus, banners waved and balloons tugged at the end of their strings. More than 800 family and friends were waiting to welcome them home. And the Whiteheads scanned the sea of camouflage furiously for their soldier.
Before rushing the formation, however, they and the rest of the welcoming squad listened to a quick speech from Fort Stewart Garrison Commander Col. Todd Buchs, who commended the 1st BCT for their efforts.
"You were the first soldiers of the division to deploy in the support of Operation Iraqi Freedom Five. You were the first to put boots on the ground for 15 months," he said. "You truly have every right to be proud of what you have done for both the Iraqi people and for the United States. It's great to have you back. Welcome home. Rock of the Marne."
Minutes later the Whiteheads were reunited in the middle of the parade field.
Hugging, holding and kissing his sons and wife, Staff Sgt. Whitehead, who was feeling a little under the weather, said lowly, "Happy to be home."
As of Thursday, more than 780 1st BCT soldiers have redeployed.
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