Katterbach community welcomes 162 U.S. soldiers home from Iraq
February 5, 2005
KATTERBACH, Germany — After waiting a year for their soldiers to return from Iraq, families at Katterbach Army Airfield didn’t seem to mind that their reunions were delayed a couple of hours.
The families of 162 soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment and 601st Aviation Support Battalion followed the rules and patiently stayed in the welcome home hangar, even though their loved ones were right next door, turning in weapons and doing some paperwork.
A couple of the wives were too nervous to be upset over the delay.
“I’m feeling excitement and I’m nervous. Every five minutes, I tear up,” said Maria Martinez as she waited for her husband, Sgt. Leo Cleversley, of 1-1 Aviation. “I’m very nervous. It feels like we have to get reacquainted, or like we’re meeting for the first time. I have butterflies.”
Perhaps families were patient because two hours is a mere nanosecond compared to the time they have been separated by deployment.
“It was a difficult year,” said Francia Lopera, whose husband, Staff Sgt. Jairo Lopera, also is from the 1-1 Aviation. “I managed to get through it by keeping busy. I lost some weight and went to the gym a lot. It has been a long separation.”
Martinez tried to surprise her three children — 11-year-old twins Michael and Justin and 7-year-old Clay — by telling them they had to go to an appointment. But the boys quickly figured out what was up when they arrived at the hangar, decorated with dozens of welcome home signs.
“They are really excited,” Martinez said. “They have all these things they want to tell him, like that they got good grades.”
When the doors finally opened to the soldiers marching into the hangar, the crowd was on its feet, screaming, cheering and applauding.
After a short ceremony, the wait was finally over.
Jessica Czarnecki dashed from the bleachers and jumped on her father, Sgt. Shawn Czarnecki, 1-1 Aviation, wrapping her arms around his neck and legs around his waist.
His son, Jacob, and wife, Cara, caught up seconds later.
“It’s really great to be home,” Czarnecki said.
The family’s immediate plans were to get out of the Army and move to Arizona, said Cara Czarnecki.
Spc. Aaron Tingley, surrounded by wife, Dominique, and children Alice, Andrea, Gabriella and Joshua, was antsy to get out of the hangar.
“I just want to sit on my couch,” he said. “It’s been a year of benches and cots.”
“I was anxious to come back,” Lopera said. “My wife looks great and I’m happy that I was able to see all of my soldiers make it back alive.”