FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Army News Service, April 7, 2009) -- Over the past two weeks, about 900 Soldiers from Fort Bragg's XVIII Airborne Corps returned home from Iraq.

The XVIII Abn. Corps headquarters served as the Multi-National Corps-Iraq headquarters at Camp Victory from Feb. 14, 2008, up until Saturday.

The corps was replaced in Iraq by the I Corps headquarters from Fort Lewis, Wash. This was the longest deployment in the history of the XVIII Abn. Corps, officials said.

Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the XVIII Abn. Corps and Fort Bragg commander, and about 40 Soldiers from the command group arrived Sunday afternoon at Green Ramp on Pope Air Force Base to close out the unit's redeployment.

Austin was met by Gen. Charles C. Campbell, U.S. Army Forces Command commanding general, who presided over the welcome-home ceremony.

Campbell said, "Welcome home, and thanks for your magnificent service in Iraq. In this day, when many Americans simply indulge in the rights and privileges of American citizenship, these great Soldiers have honored their obligations as American citizens. You have willfully chosen to do the difficult and dangerous work of a free society and we all thank you for answering our nation's call."

Austin then spoke briefly to the crowd of family and friends. "Ladies and gentlemen, I really appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedules to come here and welcome home my heroes, the men and women that stand before us," he said.

He then went on to say, "I really didn't want to say much today, but I especially want to thank those folks who are our treasure ... and that is our families, for what they have endured over the last 15 months."

Austin closed by expressing his pride and appreciation for the Soldiers' sacrifices and service.

As they waited for the planes to arrive, family members and friends all said they were relieved to have the Soldiers return safe and sound. Many held tightly to balloons and special signs they had made for their Soldiers.

Amber Mahone, 12, of Southern Pines, N.C., wasted no time Saturday putting the final finishing touches on a sign for her mother, Staff Sgt. Caroline Mahone.

"I can't wait to see my mom. I am proud of her for being independent ... I love her very much and I am thankful for everything she does for me. I missed the way she talked to me and our time together. I can't wait to just hang out with her," said Amber.

Amber's grandmother and caretaker during the deployment, Pamela McGregor, of Southern Pines, N.C., stood nearby as Amber colored. She expressed her excitement not just for her daughter's arrival but for all of the Soldiers.

"I am just overwhelmed that the wait has finally come to an end. I am cheering not only for my daughter, but for every Soldier coming home," she said.

Other families such as the Hastings wore their unique sign to welcome home their Soldier. Melinda, and daughters Ashley, 14, and Victoria, 12, proudly displayed their love and support by wearing t-shirts welcoming home Capt. Scott Hastings of the XVIII Abn. Corps G-3 office. Hastings was on his second deployment.

Sandi Smith kept her plans a secret from her brother, Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Fuller, who was returning Saturday after almost 15 months. Fuller had no idea his sister would be waiting for him at Pope AFB.

After receiving the flight information from Fuller's Family Readiness Group key caller, Smith and her husband Roger decided there was no time like the present for a road trip to Fort Bragg. So they packed up on Friday and hit I-95 north. They arrived Saturday morning and caught up on some extra rest in the car before arriving at Green Ramp.

As the Smiths waited patiently for the plane to arrive, Sandi had only one worry left on her mind, "I just hope his heart can take it," Smith said as she laughed.

Fuller's heart held out just fine and the surprise was a great success. "I was very surprised, I really didn't expect them. I am so glad they came. The last time we saw each other was two Christmases ago," said Fuller.

Like many of the Soldiers returning, Fuller's plans for his first hours back in the United States were simple. "I want to take a long hot shower and go out for Mexican food. The chow hall just didn't quite get it right over there," he said.

(Stephenie Tatum writes for the Paraglide newspaper serving XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg.)

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16