WIESBADEN, Germany - At 6 p.m. families walking into the Wiesbaden Fitness Center Nov. 24 got a fright. A large tour bus sat outside the gym on Wiesbaden Army Airfield.

"Oh my, are they already here'" asked one concerned woman, as she quickly shuffled her two children into the gym.

"That's the bus for the U.S. Army Europe Band," she was told after rushing in.

The family soon blended with countless other families and friends of the 100 or so 1st Armored Division Soldiers returning from Iraq; families who busied themselves feasting on snacks and drinks provided by the USO. Still others visited with each other while their children ran back and forth across the gym floor playing games. Homemade signs lined the perimeter of the gym.

Forty minutes later a voice boomed in the gym announcing that the bus carrying their Soldiers was 30 minutes out; Soldiers who had left the comforts of their home in Wiesbaden Army Airfield in late December 2009.

One of those was Capt. Chris Webb. When he left his wife, Joanna, and son, Christopher, the boy was 8 months old. Now, little Christopher stood in the bleachers next to his mother and played with various items she laid in front of him.

"He knows daddy on the webcam and he often looks at the pictures, so he knows daddy," Joanna said. "But he doesn't understand what's going on today."

Christopher picked up his mom's cell phone, pushed some buttons and held the phone up to his ear. Joanna smiled at him. "He talks to daddy, too."

Joanna said there was a big difference between Chris' first deployment and this second one.

"We didn't have Christopher back then and I stayed busy working and getting involved in things. I was so preoccupied with my life, I didn't think about it much," Joanna said. "This time was tougher because I stayed at home with Christopher - I could have used an extra set of eyes. So when I found out he was coming home early, I was shocked. I'm just so thankful that he's going to be home for the holidays."

The Soldiers who arrived are considered the advanced party; sent ahead of the rest of the division to prepare for the division's arrival, expected sometime in December.

The loud voice broke through the happy chaos of the moment in the gym: "Ladies and gentlemen, the bus is 10 minutes out." Spontaneous cheers and clapping erupted.

Six-year-old McKaylea Woods smiled. "Yea, Dad's only 10 minutes out. When I see him, I'm gonna run up and hug him and say, 'Thanks for nothin'.' - Naw, just joking." Though the youngest of four Woods children, her oldest brother suggested she's the funniest.

McKaylea ran off the bleachers with four other children to join the others involved in the chase game; one last game before the final announcement. Sensing it was time, parents called their children back to the bleachers.

The voice announced the entrance of the Soldiers as they marched in and formed up in front of the families who cheered and waved more homemade signs.

Lt. Col. Conrad Wiser , 1st AD's rear detachment commander, delivered a quick pep talk, thanking the families for the support of their Soldiers during the deployment, "The people who have really felt the deployment most are the families," and the Soldiers for a "job well done."

As quickly as the group commander dismissed the Soldiers, the bleachers emptied. The Woods rushed to their father, Maj. Bryan Woods, and hugged his legs and waist. The last to get to her father, McKaylea ran up and got picked up by her father who buried her in his arms.

Within 15 minutes the chaos in the gym died down to just a handful of stragglers visiting with friends. Outside, Soldiers and their families quickly loaded into automobiles and headed home. Chief Warrant Officer 4 Steven Clifford wandered the parking lot in search of a friend.

I'm happy to be back," said Clifford; "very tired, but happy."

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