177 soldiers return to fort in ceremony

By Rose Schneider

Fort Riley’s redeployment center was filled with smiles, tears and cheers Wednesday as 177 soldiers from the Division Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 1st Infantry Division, were reunited with their families after a 12-month deployment in Afghanistan.

Stephanie Hoff, 1st Inf. Div. public affairs, estimated there were 350 family members and friends in attendance at the welcome-home ceremony, filling the stands with homemade signs and banners.

Tammy Johnson waited with two squirmy boys to welcome her husband, Spc. Robert Johnson, who was returning from his first deployment overseas. Johnson’s two sons had spent hours working on a sign and banner complete with drawings of their family and patriotic lettering for their father.

“The first thing we’re all going to do is talk about how much we missed him,” said the older boy, Owen.

Johnson said her husband’s first night home would be spent eating pizza and enjoying time together as a family.

Before the soldiers were reunited with their eager family members, a color uncasing ceremony took place for the brigade battalion, signifying that the headquarters had returned to Fort Riley.

Once the men and women were released, families and friends flooded the floor to find their loved ones in a sea of joyful hugs and tears.

“It feels good to be back this time,” said Lt. Col. Bill Moen, who was returning to his wife and 5-year-old daughter from his fifth deployment .

“Each return is a little better than the last,” he said. 

The first group of Big Red One soldiers returned to Fort Riley from Regional Command-East in Afghanistan Feb. 11 and will continue to return to post over the next few weeks.

The soldiers had been operating as a combined joint task force while conducting combined operations, protecting the local populations and controlling an area comparable in size to the state of Virginia, which included 14 provinces, 7.5 million citizens and 270 miles of a mountainous border with Pakistan.

“It’s a great feeling to return home after a year-long deployment, as you can see, the crowd and smiles on everyone’s faces; today is a great day to return home to our families,” Command Sgt. Maurice Chapman said.

“The past year has been good and bad. We had the opportunity to help the people of Afghanistan, but we’ve been away from our families. Today is a very special day.”

Many of the soldiers who returned Wednesday expect to return to Afghanistan again.

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