More than 200 Fort Bragg soldiers return from yearlong Afghan deployment
By RACHAEL RILEY | The Fayetteville Observer | Published: September 23, 2019
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — A child's handwriting left a scrawled message on a sign to welcome home soldiers of the 525th Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade stating "We love you Louie. Let's play."
The sign and message signaled that about 200 soldiers with the 525th Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade returned to Fort Bragg on Sept. 23 after a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan.
Among the children waiting for a parent to return home was the Byers family — 9-year-old Ethan, 7-year-old Zachary and 5-year-old Makenzie, all who were waiting for Capt. Joshua Byers.
"He left like a month after we got here," said their mother, Lindsay Byers, who said it was the children's first time to experience their father's deployment.
Originally from Georgia and new to North Carolina, Linsday Byers said they found a good support system at Fort Bragg.
Asked what they missed while their father was away, Ethan and Zachary said playing video games with their father.
Matt Young, 9, who was waiting for his father, Sgt. Craig Young, also said he looked forward to playing video games with his father.
"He says he wants to learn how to play 'Spiderman' games," Matt said, "so I'm going to teach him how to do that."
Waiting for her boyfriend, Jarod Krug, to return was Nancy Rodriguez.
Krug deployed 3 months into their relationship.
"I was like this is a sign because I would have never thought I'd be in a long distance relationship, but when he told me he was leaving I didn't even blink," Rodriguez said.
Once hitting the one year mark, she sent him concert tickets to a Luke Bryan concert, which they plan to attend at the beginning of October.
Driving from New Jersey to welcome home Cpl. Alexander Lopez were his mother, Faith Lopez, and his fiance, Jen Collado.
"I got like 30 minutes of sleep," Collado said, as they were the first of family to file into the passenger shed at Fort Bragg's Green Ramp. "We were waiting since five in the morning."
Lopez said this has been the second deployment for her son, which also was his first to Afghanistan.
"A lot of tears, sleepless nights —and you worry," she said. "You worry all the time for their safety."
Lopez said she found support from her church and its congregation who prayed for her son.
Alex Lopez said it means a lot to be home.
"We're really proud of what we did over there, and it means a lot to see my family," he said. "What I'm looking forward to doing is eating real food."
The soldiers, who included part of the brigade's headquarters and the 319th Military Intelligence Battalion, deployed in October 2018 to Afghanistan as combined "Task Force Lighting," in support of Operation Resolute Support, officials said.
The operation is a NATO-led mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan National Defense and security forces, while also part of efforts to protect Afghanistan against terrorism.
Specifically, soldiers with the 525th Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade and 319th Military Intelligence Battalion provided military intelligence for human, signal and counter intelligence to U.S. and partner Forces in Afghanistan, officials said.
"We are so very proud of all of you and all you've done over the past year," said Maj. Gen. Brian McKiernan, deputy commanding general of the 18th Airborne Corps and the reviewing officer for Monday's redeployment ceremony. "Mission accomplished. Welcome home."
Prior to returning home, the soldiers transferred authority of the mission to the the 201st Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade, which is out of Joint-Base Lewis McChord, Washington.
Col. Daniel J. Benick was commander of the soldiers, leading up to Col. Danielle Corke assuming command July 16.
Prior to September 23rd's ceremony, Lt. Col Eric Haas, commander of the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion which falls under the 525th Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade, said the ceremony symbolized putting the team back together and recognizing the soldiers for their experiences in the past year.
Several of the soldiers who the deployed soldiers are rejoining at Fort Bragg were in the crowd.
Staff Sgt. Amy Maldonado and a group of soldiers she was with held signs made by Spc. Noelani Tuga to welcome home their multifunction platoon or the Bravo Company of the 319th Military Intelligence Battalion.
"We're just super excited," Maldonado said. "These are our people."
Catherine Medina said she was welcoming back Sgt.Gleymi Martinez and Sgt. J.C. Rosado.
"I was deployed with them, but came back earlier," Medina said. "We're glad to have them home."
Soldiers will enjoy time reintegrating with their families and taking "well earned leave," Haas said.
The Mendoza family — 7-year-old Elyjah, 6-year-old Khaleb and 1-year-old Gabrie — is one of those families.
"It's a big relief that I can sleep with the peace of mind that he's back home safe with us and that they can spend time with their dad and catch up," their mother, Nevva Mendoza, said as they welcomed home Sgt. 1st Class Benedict Mendoza.
Benedict Mendoza said it's hard to put into words what it means to be back home.
"It's definitely been a rough ride, but I'm just glad to be home and we're going to Disney World," he said. "I missed family time really, quality family time."