By Claire Parker, Fayetteville OnlineSeptember 15, 2006
Cheering friends, teary moms, proud dads and relieved spouses hushed for a split second before erupting in roaring applause as their loved ones marched on American soil for the first time in almost a year.About 75 men and women from the 18th Field Artillery Brigade headquarters returned from Iraq on Sunday. They were running missions that included convoy security and base support operations.Many family members said it was a hard year of separation and anxiety, but most got through it by keeping in regular touch with the soldiers, via e-mail, phone calls and letters.The Army brigade has sent about 1,300 of its 1,800 soldiers to Iraq since September 2005.Thanks to facilities stocked with computers and telephones, soldiers were able to keep in regular touch with loved ones, making the thousands of miles between the United States and Iraq seem a little bit shorter.Kadeisha Cornell and her husband, Sgt. Thomas Cornell, talked almost every day while he was gone."They knew me at the MWR by name," Cornell said. "I had my same spot every day where I would sit and call her."The MWR, or Morale, Welfare, and Recreation program, operates call centers and computer banks for deployed soldiers."This was the first time we had been separated in six years of marriage," said Kadeisha Cornell, who is also a sergeant in the Army.RELATED * View slide showThe distance put a strain on their relationship initially, so they set a goal to talk every day to relieve some of that stress.It worked, she said.They planned on spending a quiet afternoon talking face to face this time in celebration of being together again.Capt. Stephen Calderon's family said e-mail and instant messaging were a great help in keeping their spirits up while he was deployed.His father, Nestor Calderon, watched TV and read newspaper reports on the war from his home in Charlotte. Hearing from his son on a regular basis kept his mind at ease knowing that he was OK."We were always anxious to hear from him," Calderon said. "It gives you a lot of relief to hear that they are doing their work and going about their day."Cathy Del Vecchio had an empty nest at home in Ohio when her two sons deployed and her husband, who works for the State Department, was out of the country.Keeping in touch with her oldest son who returned Sunday, Spc. Tim Del Vecchio, was especially important to her after he called to say his convoy had been hit by an IED, or improvised explosive device.She said he lost part of his hearing, but he called to say he was otherwise all right.It was comforting for her to hear his voice and know that he was alive and well on the other end of the line.The family of Sgt. Chris Harbour was all smiles and tears when he walked off the plane.His parents, extended family members and friends came in from three states to welcome him home - including his 2-year-old son, Andrew, who has lived in Michigan with Harbour's parents while he was deployed.It was a big group to keep in touch with, but the ease of e-mail makes communication that much easier, they said. Especially for his son.Andrew Harbour seemed enamored with his dad and followed him around like a magnet at the Pope Air Force Base hangar where the soldiers landed."It's good to be home," Chris Harbour said, holding his son. "Clean air, no 50 mile-per-hour winds and I really missed him."Staff writer Claire Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3582.