FORT BENNING, Ga. - The 60th Engineer (Vertical) Company had to wait out an erupting volcano and then fly around powerful thunderstorms Saturday morning, but the unit finally made it home.

Nearly 150 Soldiers are back at Fort Benning after a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan, where they helped put up large structures and provided heavy equipment support for U.S. and coalition forces. This marked the construction company's third stint in southwest Asia.

Ash from a volcano in Iceland disrupted thousands of flights across Europe for several days and delayed the unit's return by almost a week as the Soldiers got stuck in Kuwait waiting for skies to clear. They landed at Lawson Army Airfield before sunrise Saturday, when strong thunderstorms began rolling through the tricommunity.

"It feels great," SPC Delmar Douglas said of the homecoming. "Unbelievable, after all the trouble trying to get here. You can't tell Mother Nature what to do. But I'd rather get home safe than rush and not make it home at all. I'm just grateful to be back."

Douglas's welcome party included wife Risque, daughter Diamond and son Delano.

"This feels great," said SGT Angel Camacho, a few seconds after hugging and kissing his wife, Ivette. "But I'm tired; I got no sleep ... It's been a long, long day."

The 60th Engineer (Vertical) Company is an element of the 11th Engineer Battalion. Its construction projects range from building new command centers and barracks to renovating living and working areas. The unit also builds roads and runways.

About an hour after the plane landed, buses carried the Soldiers from the airfield to Smith Fitness Center, where dozens of family and friends gathered early for their arrival.

"It really hasn't hit me yet. It's surreal," said Bryanna Beard, while waiting for her husband, SPC Matthew Beard, with the couple's two children - Braydin, 2, and 7-month-old Caleb. "It's nice knowing he's at least here, so I don't mind waiting ... (The delay) stunk, but it's all over now - they're here."

Tears flowed and the gym erupted in loud applause and screams when the Soldiers marched into the building and stood in formation on the basketball court. After an invocation and playing of the national anthem, the reunion was on.

"This is really, really good," said SPC Sean Dunaway, his arms wrapped around wife Victoria and their 3-year-old daughter, Ava.

"(The separation) was rough," Victoria said. "We just want to go home and relax a while."

SPC Andrew Holloway said his daughter, Alliyah, was born about two months before the company departed for Afghanistan last April. The toddler gave him a couple of awkward glances when he picked her up Saturday, as if not recognizing who he was.

"I haven't spent much time with her," he said. "I'll be getting to know the family again, for sure."

Page last updated Fri April 30th, 2010 at 12:59