About 200 soldiers with the 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, 2nd Armor Brigade Combat Team were welcomed home from Afghanistan on Tuesday in a ceremony on Fort Stewart’s Cottrell Field.
Soldiers, friends and family members began filling the bleachers an hour before their arrival. When they were not waving tiny American flags handed out by the Vietnam Veterans of America, Liberty Chapter 789, children ran excitedly up and down the field, sat on their mothers’ shoulders or waited eagerly in strollers.
“It’ll be great to have him home again,” said Gina Bailey, who played in the grassy field with her 8-month-old daughter Boston. “I’m tired of being a single mom with three kids.”
She said her husband, Spc. Glen Bailey, is a fuel-supply specialist. He is the only member of his family in the military, she said.
Bailey’s friend, Michelle Shi, said both she and her husband, Sgt. Bryan Shi, come from military families. She said her husband’s grandfather had served with Gen. George Patton during World War II. Despite the familiarity of military life and the hardships associated with it, Shi said it still is hard to be separated so long from her husband.
“These nine-month tours don’t allow them the (rest and relaxation) break they used to get at six months,” Shi said, who noted she was happy for her husband, who recently reached a milestone in his military career. “I’m proud of him because he left here a specialist, and he’s coming home a sergeant.”
Not everyone attending the ceremony was there to greet a friend or family member. Cynthia Gray said she was there to take pictures for a friend. Gray’s 2-year-old daughter Caydence seemed ready to greet somebody. She bounced in the seat of her stroller, caught up in the excitement.
When the buses began arriving with their soldiers, the crowds’ cheers elevated to a roar. The soldiers got off the buses and into formation before marching across the field toward their loved ones on the other side.
Rena Mack kneeled beside her 2-year-old son Wyatt, whispering as she pointed to a face in the formation. It was her husband and Wyatt’s father, Spc. Travins Mack.
Soldiers and family members were asked to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance and an invocation before 200 heroes were welcomed home.
“Welcome back to the United States of America,” said Col. John Hort, 3rd ID deputy commanding general-rear, “You took the fight to the enemy, and you won. Now I want to reunite you with your families.”
Following Hort’s remarks, everyone sang the Marne Song and crowd members were told to “attack” the formation.
Instantly, civilian attire blended with military uniforms as moms, dads, wives and children greeted soldiers with warm embraces.
Sgt. Jeffrey Melendez kissed his wife Daniluz then scooped up his daughter Jenielie, 5, and son Jeniel, 3, in his arms.
Caught up in the moment, Brittney Pirkola simply laid her head on her husband’s shoulder, her eyes filled with tears of happiness. Pvt. Marcus Pirkola held his oldest son Marcus in his arms while his wife cradled 4-month-old Ryder across her shoulder. Pirkola found it hard to say much but did say he was seeing his youngest son for the first time.
Tuesday’s troop return was the second main body flight of Desert Rogue soldiers to return home. The first group arrived over Thanksgiving weekend.