For more than a decade, Washington’s Joint Base Lewis-McChord has been sending soldiers off to war and welcoming them back home. Now this cycle of deployments and homecomings is winding down.
Over the next month, more than 1,000 soldiers from the 4th Stryker Brigade will return home. More than 200 were welcomed back Wednesday. And this time they don’t expect to go back to Afghanistan.
In many ways, this homecoming is like all the others. There’s an Army band. Anxious families wait on gymnasium bleachers. Homemade signs at the ready with messages like “We Missed You Daddy.”
But this one definitely felt different. These soldiers don’t expect to go back to Afghanistan. They don’t expect to get redeployed into a war zone anytime soon if ever. And the families are so much more relaxed than in the past where these homecomings were frankly kind of bittersweet because the family members knew that the homecoming would be short lived and that there was always another deployment, another many, many months of worry and concern just around the corner.
Colonel Jody Miller says soldiers coming home now will experience an Army life not seen since before 9-11. “We’re transitioning from wartime footing to training to be ready for that next call.”
For Stephanie Seelye it’s a relief. Her husband has done three wartime tours. “He deployed to Iraq the first time for 15 months, then Iraq again for 12 and now Afghanistan for nine.”
Finally, word comes the buses carrying the soldiers have arrived. Seeyle puts her hand over her heart. “It’s racing," she says. "I’m like 'oh my gosh.'”
Through the back doors of the gym the soldiers march in to cheers.
Col. Miller welcomes them home. He says, “We are so, so very proud of you. Thank you for your service and sacrifice over the last eight months.”
And then the moment everyone’s been waiting for. Seelye and her daughters frantically search the sea of camouflage fatigues for a familiar face.
In the chaos that follows there are hugs and kisses and pictures. Sgt. Aaron Seelye kneels and reaches for his young son.
Later, sitting on the bleachers, Seelye calculates he’s spent nearly half his time in the Army deployed overseas. “I’m just happy to be home," he says. "Glad that I made it. All three of my deployments I have not sustained any injuries. And I’m just happy to be home.”
Four soldiers from this Brigade didn’t make it home. A reminder that war doesn’t always end in a happy homecoming.
The entire 4th Stryker Brigade should be back home by next month.
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4th Stryker Brigade - US Army