Staff Sgt. Jennifer Bunn
2nd Brigade Combat Team PAO NCOIC
With balloons floating in the air, colorful signs clutched in nervous hands and eager eyes darting around in anticipation, Families and friends packed Magrath Sports Complex on Friday at Fort Drum. Everyone was there to greet more than 200 Soldiers assigned to 1st and 2nd Brigade Combat Teams on their return home after a nine-month deployment in Afghanistan.
The gym was open for the ceremony two hours before the Soldiers were to march in. People promptly started to arrive and fill the seats, hoping to get a good spot.
For Armand Pion, who was waiting for his grandson, Spc. Thomas “TJ” Boulanger III, a member of D Company, 210th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd BCT, the excitement was written all over his grinning face. He sat in a row of chairs close to the doors with 11 other Family Members who came to greet their returning hero.
“I am pretty proud of him,” Pion said. “When he was deployed, we were all proud of him – scared, but proud. My wife got a cross necklace to wear and never took it off until today when he comes back.”
“We were very excited to come (to the ceremony). The whole Family is here. We piled into four rigs to get here. We brought TJ a vehicle so he (would) have wheels when he got home,” Pion explained. “Whatever he wants to do today, it’s up to him.”
Sitting high in the bleachers was Nickie Gualavisi-Moore with a couple friends. She was waiting for her husband Pfc. Joshua Moore, a member of 1st BCT, who was returning from his first deployment.
“I am really very proud of him. He has done a lot for himself, and he is an amazing person,” she said happily. “This ceremony is really nice. This is my first, and I am really excited to see him. A ceremony like this shows how much we appreciate the Soldiers and want them to feel like they are really welcomed home.”
As the last few Family Members found their spots in the stands and the Soldiers formed up outside the gym door, Maj. Gen. Stephen Townsend, Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander, approached the podium and addressed the crowd like a cheerleader.
“In just a second we are going to open those doors, and I told them that a sound of cheering, clapping and whistling with the band playing was going to go right out of those doors. You are not going to let me down are you?” he cheered. “Are you fired up? Let’s go!”
Through the thunderous roar the ceremony narrator loudly exclaimed, “Please give a warm welcome to our returning heroes.” And the doors opened.
Once the formation of Soldiers was standing in front of everyone, the cheering stopped and the room fell silent for the playing of the national anthem.
Townsend approached the podium again to give a brief welcome home speech.
“Good morning. These Mountaineers standing here before you represent the trail elements of two of our brigade combat teams: the Warriors from 1st BCT and the Commandos of 2nd BCT,” Town-send said.
“For the last nine months, these Soldiers have fought; they have trained; they have advised, assisted, supported and secured,” he continued. “They’ve done America’s work in Afghanistan. We are proud of them.”
After another thunderous applause, the 10th Mountain Division and Army songs were sung. On the last note, the flood gates were opened, and everyone met out on the floor. Family and friends sought out their Soldier, and Soldiers sought out their Family and friends.
Another welcome home ceremony had ended.