JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- The 6th Engineer Battalion (Airborne), along with family and friends, gathered early Feb. 26 to welcome back the 23rd Engineer Company in a homecoming ceremony at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson's Buckner Physical Fitness Gym.

The 23rd Eng. completed a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan's Kandahar province. Their assigned mission was to clear roads of explosive hazards for both Afghan nationals and coalition forces in the area.

Despite the harsh operating environment, 100-degree temperatures, and enemy threat, the Sappers sustained only relatively minor injuries, with four Soldiers redeploying early.

After a brief ceremony, families and friends rushed to the gym floor to greet their Soldiers.

"My son was 1 month old when his father left," Debra Aguilar, wife of Spc. Juan Aguilar said. "I am so happy that he is finally home."

"It feels good being home with my family," Pfc. Dereis Richardson said, as he wrapped his hands around his wife and son.

In addition to their assigned mission, the engineers formed part of a quick reaction force and built improvements on their combat outpost, or COP.

"The 23rd performed superbly under very demanding combat conditions," said Lt. Col. Marc Hoffmeister, 6th Engineer Battalion commander. "They met every mission and without question, the dangerous work they conducted to keep IEDs clear of the roads saved many lives, both US and Afghan. We are in awe of what this company achieved over the last year."

The Soldiers transformed their base, COP Jelawur, from a bare patch of ground where they slept on top of trucks, to a facility complete with showers, gyms, tents and a covered motor pool where Soldiers could get some shade and a well deserved break from the heat while maintaining mission ready vehicles.

Each day for five months, the 23rd provided all site security and entry control point operations, guarding the gates at COP Jelawur and searching hundreds of entering Afghan delivery trucks.

The airborne engineers participated in numerous support missions during their deployment.

In one such mission the 23rd Eng. cleared every village in the Arghendab River Valley in order to push the enemy out of an area that they had been using for 10 years.

Quickly overcoming the initial cultural misunderstandings, the Soldiers worked side-by-side with Afghan National Army Soldiers collocated with them on COP Jelawur.

"We are incredibly proud of our Sappers and happy to have them home," Hoffmeister said. "This marks the first time in 14 months that the entire battalion has been home together in Alaska."

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