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Soldiers with the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade salute during a homecoming celebration in Grafenwoehr, Germany, on Jan. 13, 2012. More than 110 soldiers of the brigade returned to Grafenwoehr and Schweinfurt in an early redeployment.

Soldiers with the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade salute during a homecoming celebration in Grafenwoehr, Germany, on Jan. 13, 2012. More than 110 soldiers of the brigade returned to Grafenwoehr and Schweinfurt in an early redeployment. (Steven Beardsley/Stars and Stripes)

Soldiers with the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade salute during a homecoming celebration in Grafenwoehr, Germany, on Jan. 13, 2012. More than 110 soldiers of the brigade returned to Grafenwoehr and Schweinfurt in an early redeployment.

Soldiers with the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade salute during a homecoming celebration in Grafenwoehr, Germany, on Jan. 13, 2012. More than 110 soldiers of the brigade returned to Grafenwoehr and Schweinfurt in an early redeployment. (Steven Beardsley/Stars and Stripes)

Cpl. Michael Parker, of 3rd Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, greets his wife Becky, right, and daughter, Sydney, during a homecoming celebration for soldiers of the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade in Grafenwoehr, Germany, on Jan. 13, 2012. More than 110 soldiers of the brigade returned to Grafenwoehr and Schweinfurt in an early redeployment from Afghanistan.

Cpl. Michael Parker, of 3rd Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, greets his wife Becky, right, and daughter, Sydney, during a homecoming celebration for soldiers of the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade in Grafenwoehr, Germany, on Jan. 13, 2012. More than 110 soldiers of the brigade returned to Grafenwoehr and Schweinfurt in an early redeployment from Afghanistan. (Steven Beardsley/Stars and Stripes)

Spc. Andrew McFarland, 23, of the 3rd Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, hoists his 8-month-old son, Santos, during a homecoming celebration for the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade in Grafenwoehr, Germany, on Friday.  More than 110 brigade soldiers returned to Grafenwoehr and Schweinfurt in an early redeployment from Afghanistan.

Spc. Andrew McFarland, 23, of the 3rd Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, hoists his 8-month-old son, Santos, during a homecoming celebration for the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade in Grafenwoehr, Germany, on Friday. More than 110 brigade soldiers returned to Grafenwoehr and Schweinfurt in an early redeployment from Afghanistan. (Steven Beardsley/Stars and Stripes)

GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — Sunrise was still hours away when Friday became an unforgettable day for dozens of military families here.

More than 110 soldiers with the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade returned home in an early redeployment from the unit’s 12-month tour in eastern Afghanistan. They were greeted by thrilled family members and friends in simultaneous homecoming celebrations at the unit’s home posts in Grafenwöhr and Schweinfurt.

“Oh my God, it’s still kind of surreal,” exclaimed Becky Parker, whose husband, Cpl. Michael Parker, of the 3rd Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, was one of the early returns.

Officials with the unit’s rear detachment declined to speak about the return, saying only that it was welcomed. The returning soldiers represented each of the brigade’s subordinate units.

Much of Grafenwöhr was still asleep on a training holiday morning when the soldiers arrived by bus just before 6 a.m. Inside the gym, someone turned up AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” a door opened and a column of soldiers entered to the cheering of family and friends.

Soldiers and family said they learned of the return around Christmas. The transit lasted weeks, one soldier said, with lengthy stops in Bagram Air Base and Kyrgyzstan.

Spc. Andrew McFarland, 23, of the 3-66, said sleep was the first order of business following his return, after which he wanted to spend time with his son, 8-month-old Santos. He scooped up Santos and embraced his wife, Emerald, immediately after the ceremony.

Second Lt. Afu Lefaoseu III, of the 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, was greeted by his cousins, both with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment in Rose Barracks. Lefaoseu said he would see his wife and five children in the coming days. He has yet to meet his youngest, a 3-month-old son.

Lefaoseu, previously at Forward Operating Base Orgun-E in Aghanistan, said the return home was unexpected.

“We were just told to get ready the day before we left,” he said.

The returning soldiers are but a small fraction of the brigade’s full force, which deployed in the summer of 2012.

beardsleys@estripes.osd.mil


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