Families welcome home about 150 soldiers of the 1st Brigade Combat Team
Paratroopers who spent the last six months conducting one of the last major clearing operations of the war in Afghanistan were welcomed home Sunday at Fort Bragg.
The 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division was greeted by hundreds of friends and family members.
Nearly 150 soldiers returned, including the brigade leadership.
During a brief ceremony in an airfield hangar, Maj. Gen. James Huggins applauded the soldiers and their families for their months of hard work.
"Your sacrifice went a long way for this nation's security," said Huggins, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division.
The 1st Brigade soldiers were the latest group of paratroopers to return from Afghanistan.
Earlier this year, roughly 9,000 82nd Airborne Division soldiers were deployed throughout Afghanistan, but in the past week, leaders with the division and 1st and 4th brigades have returned to Fort Bragg.
Another brigade, the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, and a battalion with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team remain in Afghanistan but are expected home soon.
At Fort Bragg, family members held homemade signs and wore custom shirts to welcome home their heroes.
Others, such as Spc. Robert Carrasco, came bearing gifts.
Carrasco, who himself returned from Afghanistan late last month, welcomed home his wife, Sgt. Amanda Carrasco, with flowers and a Starbucks frappuccino.
The couple, who wed shortly before deploying together with the brigade, said they hoped to celebrate their honeymoon later this year.
"It's amazing," Amanda Carrasco said of being home. "It's the greatest thing ever."
Monica Rodriguez and family had matching shirts made to mark the return of her husband, Staff Sgt. Alexy Rodriguez.
Monica said she, her two children and mother-in-law were very excited to have their soldier back from his fifth deployment.
Nearby, the family of Pfc. Connor Dalton also had a sign made by Dalton's younger sisters.
Dalton's parents, Gabriel and Karen Tushim, and sisters, Kinsley and Ireland Tushim, traveled nearly 500 miles from their home in Georgia.
"We didn't sleep very well last night," Karen Tushim said. "No one did."
"We knew he was doing the right thing," Gabriel Tushim added. "But it was still hard."
Dalton said it was hard to believe he was home again and said he looked forward to good food and "getting out of uniform."
"After a real long deployment, I'm just really glad to be home," he said.
Other soldiers were greeted by friends.
Spc. April Bickel brought her two children to welcome home her friend, Spc. Lena Houston.
Bickel said she attended so that her friend would have someone there for her.
"I didn't have anybody waiting on me," Bickel said of her own return from Afghanistan in 2010. "That felt crappy."
Nearly 3,000 paratroopers deployed with the brigade, charged with working with Afghan security forces in Ghazni province, a contentious area that had been unaffected by earlier troop surges.
When the brigade first arrived, they were under near constant attack at some outposts.
In the first months, more than a hundred soldiers were injured, and eight were killed in attacks.
But Col. Mark Stock, the brigade commander, said the security in Ghazni greatly improved.
"The last two months in Giro, you couldn't find a firefight," Stock said of a district that, in May, was known for nearly daily brushes with the enemy.
Stock said the success in Ghazni was bolstered by a strong relationship with the Afghan people.
By the time the brigade left, he said, a number of local anti-Taliban movements had sprung up across the area.
Stock said he was extremely proud of his soldiers.
"They fought with incredible valor and tenacity, shoulder to shoulder with their Afghan counterparts in Ghazni and achieved tremendous success," he said.
Stock also thanked the brigade's supporters back at Fort Bragg, including families and friends.