More than 400 Fort Bragg soldiers are back home after a yearlong deployment
By RACHAEL RILEY | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: September 15, 2019
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Cheers, hugs and handshakes filled the pack shed at Fort Bragg's Green Ramp on Sunday as more than 400 soldiers with the 18th Airborne Corps returned home from a year long deployment to areas of Iraq, Syria and Kuwait.
Holding signs with how many days they spent apart from Sgt. 1st Class James Whipple were Caitlin Whipple, 13-year-old Braden and 8-year-old Avery.
It's been the family's fourth deployment.
"We had two hurricanes that went past our house," Caitlin Whipple said of the past year. "I went to nursing school. There's a lot. We could talk pretty much every day."
As the oldest child to take on more responsibilities, Braden said he's glad his father is back.
Like Braden, 15-year-old JonCarlos Garcia was waiting for a parent to return home, his mother, Sgt. 1st Class Candace Garcia.
JonCarlos said he was able to talk to his mother during his lunch breaks at school or each night before she went to bed during the past year, but he's looking forward to "going out to places," like they used to.
"We used to go play pool together. We'd go watch movies together — a bunch of stuff like that that, we used to do all the time," he said. "Then we're also supposed to be going to Florida sometime as well as going to Carowinds a bunch like we used to."
For some, the past year has been the first deployment.
Tricia Allen was dating her boyfriend, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Alvin Debats for a year, before his latest mission.
"I was scared obviously when he left, not knowing what would happen with us, and I think we became stronger and closer in the last year that he was gone," Allen said.
For the Schaffer family — Jabeth, Marcus, who is almost 2, Ellie, who is almost 6, Hazel, 4 — this was the first deployment as a family waiting for Maj. Adam Schaffer to return home.
"We actually came from overseas and got here, and he deployed within the first month," Jabeth Schaffer said, as she scooped up cheddar goldfish from the floor that one of her children had dropped. "So, we've been able to get used to a new country — because they were all born overseas — so, a new country, a new house, a new school all solo."
Schaffer said she looks forward to exploring North Carolina and the east coast as a family.
The Lennan family also is looking forward to time together, as Joanna, Santana, 3, Carter, 4, and 6-month old Vanessa welcomed home Spc. Roger Lennan
It, too, was the family's first deployment.
"Just being with my family and enjoying the things that life brings," Spc. Lennan said of what it means to be home.
As families and friends cheered to welcome home their soldiers, Gen. Michael Garrett, commander of U.S. Army Forces Command, provided brief remarks at Sunday's redeployment ceremony.
"Be proud of everything you've accomplished and know that you have established and set and maintained in a very, very high standard," Garrett told the soldiers in the moments before being reunited with their families.
The Corps had served as the headquarters for Operation Inherent Resolve, which has a mission to work with partner forces to defeat the Islamic State group in designated areas of Iraq and Syria, and increase regional stability.
Prior to Sunday's return, Lt. Gen. Paul LaCamera, commander of the 18th Airborne Corps, relinquished command of the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve to Fort Hood, Texas-based III Corps.
It's about the seventh time since 2003 that the 18th Airborne Corps and III Corps have transferred authority.
LaCamera said the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and civilians of the combined joint task force — comprised of 75 partner nations, plus five organizations of coalition and U.S. forces — was "magnificent."
"Americans can be proud of those that wear our nation's cloth," he said.
In a timeline of the Corps' history, the Corps' historian noted that March 23 marked the end of the Islamic State of Syria's physical caliphate, after pressure was put on ISIS for 197 days.
"But the ideology is not dead," LaCamera said. "There's still work to be done."
With soldiers under the Corps still deployed to 20-plus nations, LaCamera said the next step for the returning Fort Bragg soldiers is to transition leadership in the next month and prepare for the "next mission," the Army gives.
In the meantime, Garrett made one request of the soldiers.
"Pay attention to each other ...," he said. "Make sure you talk to one another ... and if something's not right, do something about it."
Staff Sgt. Audrianna Peterson heeded the advice, ahead of Garrett's request to talk and pay attention to fellow soldiers.
Peterson was on the yearlong deployment, returning home about a week ago ahead of one of her friends, Staff Sgt. Miranda Brown, who she's known for about six years.
"She's been here to welcome me on a deployment, before this latest one," Peterson said.
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