No place like home for 1st AD troops
July 25, 2004
HANAU, Germany — Looking up at her dad, Kayla Krings wiped the tears from her eyes as she began to ponder the question.
It seemed the more Kayla thought about what it was she wanted to do with her father, now that he is home, the more choked up she became.
“Everything,” the 9-year-old said, glancing back up at her father, Maj. Troy Krings, 2nd Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment. “I want to do everything.”
Making up for lost time is something a lot of people affiliated with the 1st Armored Division can identify with in these heady days of homecoming ceremonies.
Two hours before Krings and the other honored guests marched into view, Trisha Wilson and a few friends sat waiting in an empty aircraft hangar in Hanau.
“I’ve got butterflies,” Wilson said, referring to her husband, Sgt. Donta Wilson, 69th Chemical Company. “It’s like I’m meeting him all over again.”
Seated near Wilson was Capt. Sara Mann. For an hour or so, Capt. Nathan Mann and his wife had been sending messages to each other via cell phones.
“Some of them I can’t share,” Mann said with a lover’s grin.
“Oh,” Mann called out to the group after reading the latest update, “they’re in a [traffic jam] now.”
Fortunately, the buses ferrying the lucky contingent of 4th Brigade troops from Rhein-Main Air Base to Fliegerhorst Casern didn’t get stuck in traffic for too long. Shortly after 2 a.m., the buses pulled up to another hangar on post, one used to collect weapons, computers and other sensitive items.
Given all they’ve gone through in Iraq over the past 15 months, the troops were remarkably subdued. While there was some laughter and backslapping, most of the soldiers looked dog-tired from the daylong odyssey. “They’ve been in the pipeline so long, they’re kind of numb,” said Maj. Blake Burslie, the brigade’s rear detachment commander.
Before the troops could progress to the next stage — reunion with family and friends — they had to turn in their weapons, computers and other gear, such as night-vision goggles.
Sgt. Paul Mayer and several other soldiers pumped their fists into the air after the Army formally relieved them of their M-16 rifle, something that rarely left their side for long.
“I’m happy,” said Pfc. Terrell Pulliam, referring to the separation. “I hate that thing.”
It took Capt. Jake Landry, who was overseeing the process, and the roughly 100 soldiers who were supporting the effort, about an hour to clear all 299 soldiers.
Soon, flags were being unfurled and gear was being thrown back on for the mission’s final march. The five units on hand — the headquarters people, the chemical company, the 127th Aviation Support Battalion, and the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 501st — lined up for some last-minute instructions.
The march between the two hangars amounted to only a few hundred yards, but in many ways it signified a breaching of two worlds: one of chaos and caution to one of comfort and care.
As the soldiers rounded a corner, the soft sound of soles slapping asphalt was gradually overtaken by the melody of Lee Greenwood’s song, “God Bless the USA.”
“When you hear the noise,” Sgt. Maj. William McNeal said to the troops as they neared the hangar, “I need you to hold tight [with your emotions] for just a while longer.”
Out of the shadows, the soldiers soon stepped into the glow of bright lights, which grew in intensity the closer they got to their destination. As McNeal predicted, the crowd erupted in cheers and screams as row upon row of soldiers marched into the hangar.
Asked after the brief ceremony where his thoughts were at that moment, Sgt. Gregory Roby, with wife and daughter at his side, smiled and said: “It’s not in Iraq. I’ll tell you that.”