FORT CARSON, Colo. — Arriving in white, unmarked buses, the 355 soldiers were escorted by Fort Carson Fire Department trucks to a parking lot.
The sky was dark, the sun would not come for another 50 minutes, and it was serene. But inside the nearby event center, which doubles as recreational basketball facility, it felt like a high school pep rally.
Despite the early hour, families and friends inside the gym were jubilant. The frustrations and disappointments of more than two weeks of delays suddenly evaporated.
People held handmade signs under red, white and blue streamers that hung from the ceiling and a hum of anxious chatter filled the gym. Some of the hundreds of people waiting had been there for more than an hour.
It was 5 a.m. Monday, and a large contingent of soldiers from Fort Carson’s 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team was home. They were from a group of the 2,500 or so soldiers that were sent to Kuwait for a nine-month deployment to aid the war in Afghanistan.
But at least one person missed the much-delayed homecoming.
About 1,000 miles away, in Lake Charles, La., Charles Dalgleish was asleep. Dalgleish, the father of a soldier, traveled to Colorado earlier in the month hoping to greet his returning son, Staff Sgt. John Dalgleish. The unit was supposed to return in early July but was needed in the region a bit longer.
Dani Johnson, a Fort Carson spokeswoman, said delays on homecomings are common. Transportation decisions, she said, are made at the Tanker Airlift Control Center at the U.S. Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base, and Fort Carson is just “the customer.”
With the situation out of their control, all they could do was wait. “There’s tons of missions we don’t know about that require planning,” she said.
Charles Dalgleish, a 38-year veteran of the military, was well aware of what could happen when he booked a flight to Denver hoping to meet John on July 5. This was his son’s sixth return from duty since joining the Army 14 years ago after graduating from high school. Charles Dalgleish had been there for every previous homecoming.
He had friends in the area from his days at Fort Carson, and could see his granddaughter, who was staying with John’s ex-wife, to bide the time, if needed. A two- to three-day window of time for when soldiers will return is normal, he thought.
Finally, he had to return home to work. He said the trip cost him about $750 for the flights and rental car expenses.
“This thing just drug on and on and on,” he said.
The unit was rescheduled to return on the morning of July 17, but delays continued all weekend.
A roar went up in the crowd as the first soldiers marched into the gym, through manufactured fog and into formation. Their ceremony was quick.
An invocation and the singing of the national anthem were followed by a short speech by brigade commander Lt. Col. Andy Koloski. He lauded the regiment for its service before acknowledging the effect the delays had on family members and friends back home.
“It’s the daily grind behind the scenes that you do so well,” he said. Minutes later, the soldiers quickly found family and friends and dispersed.
After the ceremony, Koloski acknowledged the regiment “waited a long time” to get home.
The normal scheduling for redeployment and deployment flights can take between 60 to 90 days, he said, and uncertainty as to which exact date soldiers will return is common. Koloski said issues with flight ability due to the World Cup, and aircraft maintenance issues caused the delays.
John Dalgleish was greeted by cousins who are in the area. His dad got a text from John, and saw pictures and a video from the ceremony.
Charles Dalgleish hopes his son’s inprocessing soon will be complete and he soon can visit Louisiana with his daughter.
He was frustrated he could not be in Colorado to greet him.
“I wish I would have been there, but hey, that’s life,” Charles Dalgleish said, when reached by phone after the ceremony. “Other people had to be facing the same issues that I was.”