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Drone unit returns to Fort Riley

By Kristina Jackson

FORT RILEY — Staff Sgt David Weidemann held his daughter, 14-month-old Elsie, for the first time in nine months Thursday.

“I watched her grow up through pictures and Skype,” he said. “I’m excited to see my daughter walk for the first time.”

Weidemann is a member of the “Fenix” Company of the Combat Aviation Brigade, which was welcomed home in a ceremony at Marshall Army Airfield Thursday evening.

The company was deployed to Afghanistan and flew Gray Eagle Unmanned Aircraft Systems.

It was the first unit to operate this drone technology from its home station, as well as the first of the Gray Eagle companies to both deploy from and return to its home station.

Company commander Capt. Joseph DiFrancesco said he was happy with the work his unit did while deployed.

“Because we were the first domestically fielded unit, we were developing our own tactics and exploring several avenues,” he said.

The company used the technology to do several things such as cover convoys and look for IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) on roads.

Weidemann said he spent a lot of time sitting in a box handling the equipment, but he felt he helped keep people safe.

“I felt we accomplished our mission,” he said.

When he was not on the job, Weidemann was able to Skype with his wife, Morgan, and their daughter every day.

“It was my shortest deployment but it felt like the longest, because it was the first when I had my family,” Weidemann said.

Morgan said the most difficult part for her was feeling like a single parent, especially when her husband missed big events like Elsie’s first steps or her first birthday.

“It was hard having him miss all her firsts,” she said.

That was forgotten, though, when she saw him for the first time when the company returned.

“It was awesome,” Morgan said. “We saw him before he saw us. I cried a little.”

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