CAMP SHELBY, Miss. (Army News Service, Dec. 23, 2008) - A large and happy contingent of 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team families are celebrating the return of more than 3,200 Soldiers from a yearlong deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The largest wave of nearly 900 Arkansas National Guard troops deplaned in Gulfport, Miss., Dec. 18 in three separate flights, and were bused to Camp Shelby to begin the demobilization process. Five Soldiers remained behind in Iraq to take care of logistical and administrative issues, officials said, adding they will be home in January.
Family members cheered loudly as the troops formed into ranks on the same parade field on which they stood earlier this year during the brigade's deployment ceremony.
"I'm going to just hold on to him and not let go because he's been gone for so long," said Desiree Strickland, as her husband Spc. Joseph Strickland marched onto the parade field with Company A, 217th Brigade Support Battalion.
Following a very brief welcome home ceremony the troops were released to greet their loved ones, creating a happy chaos of hugs, kisses, and tears of joy.
"It's been rough, but I'm glad I'm home," said Strickland as Desiree and her son Braeden hugged him. "I'm going to sleep in my own bed."
Shortly after 4 p.m., the final busses filled with troops from Company F, 39th Brigade Support Battalion, and Company A, 217th Brigade Support Battalion pulled up to the parade field. The short welcome home ceremony marked the completion of a mission that began in October 2007 with the mobilization of the 39th IBCT.
Once the troops arrived at Camp Shelby, they began a four-day demobilization process prior to their return home to Arkansas. The 39th is anticipated to be back on U.S. Soil in its entirety by Christmas, although demobilization activities for many could potentially carry on past the holidays. As of Dec. 18, more than 2,100 troops had been processed and re-deployed back to their National Guard status.
"On behalf of the citizens of Arkansas, we want to thank you for answering the nation's call and for making Arkansas proud; you did an outstanding job," said Maj. Gen. William D. Wofford, the adjutant general of Arkansas, as he addressed the Soldiers and their families. "Now, we want you to have a safe and wonderful holiday season."
(Capt. Chris Heathscott serves as public affairs officer for the Arkansas National Guard.)