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American Forces Press Service

Fort Campbell Troops Return Home After Deployment to Iraq

By Spc. Anna-Marie Hizer, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky., Jan. 8, 2004 -- Bitter cold and pre-dawn exhaustion did not deter a crowd of enthusiastic families, friends and fellow soldiers waiting with signs, flags and smiles here Jan. 7.

More than 100 people braved the sub-freezing air for the first of two flights of Screaming Eagles returning to Fort Campbell in the early morning hours.

"It's good knowing that everybody is getting ready to come back," said Sgt. 1st Class Jimmy Hayes, Headquarters Service Battery, 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, who himself returned one week before the flight. "Seeing my family (was the best)."

Another crowd of family and friends eagerly awaited a second airplane full of troops scheduled to arrive later in the morning. Though slightly smaller, this group showed as much excitement for their loved ones.

More than 300 soldiers returned on the two flights, marking the official start of more than 18,000 101st Airborne Division soldiers to redeploy after serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom since March.

More than 600 soldiers are expected to be home by the end of the week, with the remainder and their equipment returning over the next three months.

When the division received deployment orders in February, soldiers spent a whirlwind 10 days loading 1,200 rail cars with more than 4,500 pieces of equipment. Before returning home, the soldiers must prepare the same equipment for the journey to Jacksonville Port and then to Fort Campbell, said Army officials. Troops also must ready themselves and personal equipment for the trip.

In addition to the logistics of equipment transport, leaders and soldiers have the added task of training their replacements.

At around 2:45 a.m. Jan. 7, equipment and training were far from anyone's mind as families and soldiers were only looking for one thing: each other. Cheers and shouts greeted the first airplane as it touched down on Campbell Army Airfield, and soldiers crowded windows to wave back at family members on the ground.

Desert-uniform-clad troops filed into a hangar and formed up for a brief welcome home ceremony and word of thanks from Brig. Gen. J.W. Noles, assistant adjutant general for Tennessee, before being released for a brief visit with families.

Spouses, parents and soldiers rushed for each other with open arms, many for the first time in a year. Children and 'long-lost' parents got reacquainted, and some met for the first time.

"It's very exciting," said Spc. Lawrence Silversmith. He beamed as tears of joy filled his eyes while holding his 6-month-old son, Kaiden, for the first time.

His wife, Jamaica, wiped back her own tears as she watched her family reunite. "I felt like my stomach was going to come out of my mouth," she said of her reaction to news her husband was coming home.

Parents hugged and kissed their children and some cried in disbelief over how much little ones had grown.

One father followed his daughter as she toddled along the hangar floor -- the first time he had seen her walk. A little boy gazed up at the man in uniform holding him as he tried to remember daddy's face. Many families shared the same overwhelming feelings that their loved ones were finally home.

"You have to pinch yourself to make sure it's not a dream," said Sandy Goetz, wife of Maj. Jack Goetz from the 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment. "(I'm) relieved that he's here, and he's home, and he's safe."

(Army Spc. Anna-Marie Hizer is assigned to the Fort Campbell, Ky., public affairs office.)

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