December 8, 2009
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii - For one evening, the happiest place on Earth wasn't Disneyland, but right here at Sills Field, Nov. 19.
The redeployment celebration known as "A Tropic Homecoming" brought more than 1,000 community members together, all of whom were eager to honor the return of Soldiers from deployment while enjoying a free, live concert by recording artist Lee Ann Womack.
And while the spotlight was certainly large on the country music singer, there was no doubting who the evening's brightest stars were.
"Tonight, we're here to honor you, to recognize you, and this night is all about you," said Col. Matthew Margotta, commander, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii, referring to Soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division Headquarters, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT), 8th Military Police Brigade and the 84th Engineering Battalion - many of whom were in attendance with their families and friends.
"So from the entire Hawaii community," the commander continued, "we just want to say, welcome back and congratulations on a job well done."
For their part, many Soldiers expressed appreciation for being recognized following 12 months of life downrange.
"They've gone the extra mile with this welcome home event," commented Maj. Sebastien Joly, 84th Eng. Bn., while awaiting a free tractor hayride around Sills Field, with his 6-year-old daughter, Emma, courtesy of nearby Wheeler Stables. "I think it shows that the people at home really do miss us, and that they appreciate the sacrifices that the Soldiers and their families make."
Families began arriving shortly before 3 p.m. for the USO-sponsored event, some of whom immediately made their way over to the large white tent to sample food provided by such restaurants as Papa John's, Ruby Tuesday and Just Tacos. Others opted to take their children over to one of the inflatable bounce houses, supervised by volunteers from the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation.
Yet others simply chose to find a comfortable spot on the lawn, where they could lay down their blankets, kick back and relax to the pre-concert music being piped in through large speakers.
One of those Soldiers content with relaxing was Spc. Jonathan Nuss of the 3rd IBCT, who was admittedly tickled to be spending the day with daughters Makayla, 18 months, and Arianna, 6 months. Despite the considerable time apart from his children, Nuss says he was able to stay relevant in their lives, particularly Makayla, through constant communication via a cell phone or Skype.
"Every day," replied Nuss when asked how often he made contact with his children from downrange. "Even when we'd go out on missions, I'd get back and call them. It was kind of hard at first. But in Makayla's case, she never forgot my voice. When I came back, she just knew who I was."
As for what life has been like since his return from Iraq, Nuss called it "amazing."
"I love what we did over there," he said. "But I have a job here. It's a family job."
For this event, however, the job to entertain fell on the vocal prowess of Womack, whose blissful stylings were tack-sharp during her 90-minute set. Eliciting cries of "We love you, Lee Ann!" Womack thrilled the country-music-loving crowd with such favorites as "Solitary Thinkin'," "I May Hate Myself in the Morning," "Never Again, Again," and the smash hit, "I Hope You Dance."
Toward the end of the evening, she was presented with Tropic Lightning souvenir coins and hats, as well as a Hawaiian hand weapon made of koa wood with implanted shark teeth around its edges. Womack then showed her playful side by recounting an experience that occurred early in her music career.
As the story went, a recording industry official kept pestering her to record a particular song, guaranteeing the Texas native that it would rocket to the top of the charts and become her first major hit. Womack declined the invitation on several occasions, but the man would not stop. Finally, she relented, recording the suggested track, "The Fool," and placing it on her self-named 1997 album.
"That song did go to number 1," Womack admitted, "that guy became my second husband. So the morale of the story is, if anyone here has a hit that you'd like to drop off ... "
The crowd erupted in laughter, including many eligible Soldiers, some of whom were seriously mulling over what Womack had just said.
For a few anxious moments, the possibilities surrounding post-deployment life produced ear-to-ear grins on their faces.
And for at least one evening, Sills Field was indeed the happiest place on Earth.