Another 150 troops back at Fort Bragg in a busy week of deployment homecomings
By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: February 18, 2017
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — For the last nine months, soldiers with the 1st Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment have flown more than 6,000 hours over the skies of Korea.
During a busy deployment, the soldiers trained with U.S. and Korean forces. And they stood read to deploy at a moment's notice to combat North Korea.
Back home, their families celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's and Valentine's Day without them. They marked birthdays and other milestones while thousands of miles apart.
That is, until Friday afternoon when after a long flight from the Pacific the soldiers stood in formation and faced their family and friends. All that stood between them was one speech.
Maj. Gen. Erik Kurilla didn't disappoint. He kept his words short and sweet.
"Sabre squadron, welcome back to the family," said Kurilla, the commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division. "Exceptionally well done. Ladies and gentlemen, how about a round of applause?"
With that, Fort Bragg's Green Ramp erupted with cheers. Soon, soldiers were being embraced and posing for happy photos with their loved ones.
More than 350 soldiers from the squadron, part of the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, have returned home this week following their deployment to Korea.
About 150 of them, including the squadron leadership, returned on Friday.
Their return capped a busy week for the 82nd CAB, which welcomed home more than 420 soldiers from South Korea and the Horn of Africa during six homecoming ceremonies spread across seven days.
For the soldiers who served in Korea, their mission was a busy one.
Sgt. Darren Traylor, a helicopter mechanic, said the deployment was "a lot of hard work."
"It was tired, endless nights," he said. "But it was all worth it."
The soldiers, who have been the Army's last OH-58D Kiowa Warrior squadron for the span of their deployment, said they were honored to close out the aircraft's U.S. Army lifespan with one last mission.
"It was our last run," Traylor said. "But it was good to get a last run."
While the soldiers were deployed, their loved ones anxiously awaited their return.
Jennifer Acosta, Traylor's girlfriend, said it was the first deployment of their relationship.
"I missed him a lot," she said.
Once soldiers were released to their families, Acosta said she had trouble finding Traylor at first among the sea of Stetsons and maroon berets.
Traylor described them finding each other as "surreal."
"I can't stop shaking," Acosta said.
For many families, the end of the deployment promised a return to normalcy.
Colleen LeBreton, who waited for her husband, Staff Sgt. David LeBreton, with their three children - 14-year-old Daniel, 9-year-old Katelyn and 6-year-old Grace - said it was hard spending so much time with the family split apart.
"It was difficult, but definitely part of the job," she said.
LeBreton said her husband participated in holidays over the phone or via video chat when possible.
She said the deployment, his fourth, would also be his last, as he's soon set to retire.
That was encouraging, she said.
"I'm glad this is going to be the last one," LeBreton said. "I'm grateful for his time in the military, but I'm grateful his time is coming to an end."
Among the happy reunited families, Spc. Bryan McCann and his wife, Chantelle, said they were eager to make up for lost time.
The last minutes waiting outside Green Ramp were the toughest, Spc. McCann said.
"This is everything we look forward to," he said of being reunited with his wife.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Thaddeus Ikner, whose job it was to keep track of the various flights of returning troops this week, said it was busy work, but well worth the early hours and late nights needed to keep track of so many moving troops.
Four Air Force C-5s carried more than 80 soldiers home from a mission in Africa starting Saturday. Two contracted 767s carried the roughly 350 soldiers home from Korea.
"I'm glad people are home," Ikner said, looking out on a crowd of family carrying homemade signs, flowers, balloons and more. "The reward is there. The reward is guaranteed."
©2017 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)
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