MELBOURNE, Fla. - Excitement was thick in the air as friends, family and members of the community waited for more than 100 soldiers from the Florida Army National Guard's 715th Military Police Company to come home Tuesday, Feb. 11 after a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan. They were welcomed back home at the unit's headquarters in Melbourne, Fla.
The 715th, which deployed in May 2013 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, provided base defense and force protection at Camp Sabalu-Harrison in Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, under the command of Capt. Thomas K. Hoskins.
Amongst all the excitement was Betzaida Martinez, mother of Edgar Batista, a soldier with the 715th MP Company.
"He is coming from something that no parent wants for their child but can't help feel overwhelming pride during moments like this," said Martinez.
This was Batista's second deployment. He was supported by his mother, father, brother, sister, wife and baby, all in attendance.
After much anxiety, the soldiers finally arrived, escorted by the Melbourne Police Department and the Patriot Guard Riders. The soldiers marched through the headquarters' gates into a sea of bright "welcome home" banners, cheering and children running alongside the formation.
Col. Matthew Hearon, brigade commander of the 164th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, gave a few words of advice to the soldiers during a short ceremony.
"Most of you have earned some leave days, don't be in a hurry to get back to work, go fishing or whatever it is you have been waiting to do before returning back to your jobs and the demands of everyday life," said Hearon.
Before the soldiers were finally released, the 715th surprised Pfc. Maximillan Licciardi, the unit's guidon bearer during the deployment, with a promotion to the rank of specialist.
The 715th Military Police Company is comprised of soldiers from south Florida cities including Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Fort Pierce and Vero Beach, and north Florida cities from Melbourne to Jacksonville. This was the unit's third Afghanistan deployment, the most recent being in July 2009.