Spc. Osama A. Ayyad
3rd Brigade Combat Team Journalist
After spending more than 24 hours in the air, crossing nine time zones and having their arrival date change 13 times, more than 200 Soldiers of 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI), returned to Fort Drum in the past week after a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan.
Nine months in Afghanistan is a challenge to any unit, and 3rd BCT has deployed to Afghanistan four times since 2001, said Sgt. 1st Class Katherine A. Smith, one of the noncommissioned officers who aided Soldiers in the reintegration process.
Before reintegrating, before a welcome home ceremony, Capt. Jordan B. Hinkle, an assistant to the intelligence officer of Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 3rd BCT, turned in his weapons for the first time in nine months.
“It feels like a pressure has been lifted off of my chest,” Hinkle said. “I am excited to see my Family, and I look forward to enjoying the Sackets Harbor summer. It’s the best part of the North Country.”
Some Soldiers couldn’t wait to get their hands on the one thing that they craved: food. Spc. Jenny Chan, a food service specialist, looked forward to having some pho (Vietnamese noodle soup).
“I can’t wait to get some pho,” Chan said. “The Afghan culture was great to experience, but I missed my Family and pho.”
First Lt. Michael C. Mahar, platoon leader of 2nd Platoon, A Troop, 3-71 Cavalry, wouldn’t disagree with Chan. Mahar’s plans for later that day were simple.
“After seeing my fiancée and Family, I will enjoy a nice steak dinner with a nice cold beer,” Mahar exclaimed.
Although most of the returning Soldiers looked forward to being home, they each had something specific in mind. First Lt. Brian J. Pfeiffer, an assistant to the plans officer of 3-71 Cavalry, left one month after his son Gabriel was born.
“I didn’t get to spend that much time with him,” Pfeiffer said. “Seeing him is what I look forward to the most.”
Among the Soldiers with something to anticipate, Spc. Zackary A. Curati, a shop foreman with D Company, 3-71 Cavalry, had yet to hold his 8-month-old son, Ethan.
“I made great friends while deployed, but I look forward to seeing my son in person for the first time,” Curati said. “I can’t wait to take him home and play with him.”
As Curati was clearing customs, his wife, Justine Curati, was keeping their son entertained at Magrath Sports Complex, where the welcome home ceremony was to be held.
“It was tough with Zack in Afghanistan, but I made it work,” Justine Curati said. “Watching Ethan grow up alone was bittersweet. Ethan even said ‘da-da’ three days ago.”
While Families and other loved ones gathered in preparation for the ceremony, 1st Sgt. Lary G Sack, senior enlisted adviser for HHT, 3-71 Cavalry, was thinking of both of his Families. He made sure he was the final Soldier to be processed that day.
He also was the last Soldier to disembark the plane.
“I make sure I am the last one to get through to be sure all my troops are taken care of,” Sack said. “I look forward to seeing my Family at the ceremony, but I will not rest until I know all my Soldiers are settled in the barracks.”
Family Members and Fort Drum community members gathered in the gymnasium. An announcement filled the room with anticipation. The Soldiers, waiting to enter the gymnasium, smiled.
The doors opened, and Spartan Soldiers, marching in formation, entered. The crowd stood in their seats, cheering and applauding their Soldiers. The Spartans stood at attention, no more than 10 yards from their Families and less than 10 minutes away from being able to hold them.
After a brief prayer, Brig. Gen Michael L. Howard, 10th Mountain Division (LI) acting senior commander, welcomed the returning Soldiers home.
“I know you Soldiers have waited a long time to get home, but just bear with me for two songs and you are free to go.”
Within 10 minutes, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team warriors were released. Soldiers and loved ones embraced for the first time in nine months.
The Spartan Soldiers, who arrived last week with a sense of pride and relief, were finally able to go home, and most importantly with their shields.