By Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public AffairsJuly 26, 2019
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (July 25, 2019) -- More than 1,700 Soldiers from 2nd Brigade Combat Team returned to Fort Drum, over the course of nine redeployments from Afghanistan and Kosovo, with crowds of cheering families, friends and colleagues packing gymnasium bleachers for these long-awaited reunions.
The largest of these homecomings took place July 23 with three back-to-back ceremonies returning more than 500 from the Commando Brigade to the fold.
Among those in attendance was Amanda Nguyen, wife of Maj. Kha Nguyen, the 2nd BCT fire support officer. Although her husband would not return until the following evening, Nguyen had been at the previous ceremonies passing out cake pops to attendees.
"It's a real honor and privilege to support the families and say 'Welcome home' to all the Soldiers who've worked so hard," said Nguyen, a family readiness group member with Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment.
She said that members of family readiness groups work hard to make each ceremony special for everyone involved. Nguyen said that some groups will organize "welcome home" sign-making parties, or hand out teddy bears and other treats to attendees.
Giving someone a cake pop is a simple gesture, but Nguyen said that it carries a greater meaning.
"It means the world to us that they know we didn't forget them and that we care about them and their families," she said.
Nguyen said some FRG members also remain after the ceremonies end to check if any Soldiers need a ride back to the barracks or their homes.
"They do so much to take care of us, so this is just a very small thing we can do to take care of them," she said. "Anything we can do to help them, and all of their families who went through the deployment, is important to us because they are all like our battle buddies, in a way."
Nguyen said that her family has personally experienced several deployments.
"Every deployment is different and every deployment has its challenges, so it doesn't get easier, but you learn how to use the tools you have and make it more bearable," she said. "You try to figure out your routines, but there's always some new challenge that pops up that didn't happen in a past deployment."
She said that participating in FRG activities helps her stay involved and connected with the community while Soldiers are away.
"It also helps build excitement," she said. "You're excited that they are coming home, and there's a lot of anxiety and stress that comes with that. But coming here and seeing the pure joy on the faces of children, spouses and parents as they get to see their Soldiers, it reminds you of how beautiful your moment is going to be when it comes."
Salena Phomsouvandara was the baker of those tasty and beautifully decorated cake pops, making nearly 430 of them for these special occasions.
"I used to bake a lot in high school, as a side job, but then I kind of fell out of it," she said. "But I made them here for a couple of people, and then I was asked if I could do this for the deployed Soldiers."
Phomsouvandara works full time at the School Age Center on post, but she found the time to bake at night.
"It's really great to help the families this way," she said. "I just get so sentimental with all these homecomings, and I would love to do anything for them and to make kids happy. And everyone loves cake pops!"
Katie Horrigan and her son Dylan attended to celebrate the return of their neighbor, Lt. Col. Steven Wallace, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, commander. They joined Rocky Wallace and her three sons at the ceremony.
"They're our neighbors but they're also very good friends of ours," Horrigan said. "We've become very close to them, and I wanted to come help take pictures and just show our support."
Dylan wore a furry polar bear costume to welcome home the Polar Bear Battalion. It was fairly hot inside, he said, but that didn't dampen his mood. He said that it was fun and he considered it a unique experience dressing up as the battalion mascot to entertain people awaiting the arrival of the Soldiers.
Over the past three weeks, Maj. Gen. Brian J. Mennes, 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum commander, welcomed formations of Soldiers back and shared a few words of thanks before releasing them to the surge of joyful, tearful faces.
"I'm so happy to see all of our warriors back," he said. "And I'm so proud to be among your ranks and to call myself your commander."
He said that the nation is grateful for their service and could rest easy knowing that the 2nd BCT was representing the 10th Mountain Division Soldiers in support of ongoing missions overseas. Mennes also thanked the family members in attendance for their service and the support they provided to Soldiers on deployment.
"These American treasures that you love and support are sent to us so we can do our job, and I, for one, am grateful to you for supporting them," he said.
Deployed units supported the ongoing North Atlantic Treaty Organization peacekeeping mission and Operation Resolute Support by assisting with security and advising operations, providing quick reaction forces and base defense, and working with NATO partners and host nation military and police forces.
Byron Wilson and his wife arrived for the homecoming on July 19 from Richmond, Virginia, to see their son Sgt. Alexander Wilson. The proud dad said that his son, assigned to 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, specifically asked to be reassigned to the 10th Mountain Division (LI) because he wanted to deploy.
A few hours later, roughly 180 more Soldiers returned home - this time from the 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment. As soon as they burst through the gymnasium doors, there was an eruption of applause as family members scanned the formation for their Soldiers. While at the position of attention, Soldiers' eyes darted in all directions looking for familiar faces in the crowd.
"Having done several of these ceremonies, there's such a good excitement all around," said Lt. Col. Kevin Kilbride, 1-89 Cavalry commander. "On a range, these Soldiers can find a target 300 meters away, but in this field they cannot find their spouse. They're freaking out trying to find them."
Speaking for all of the Soldiers, he said it was great to be back at Fort Drum and they look forward to reconnecting with the community.
"There's really a sense of pride in being back," he said. "It's never easy separating from your parent brigade and division, so we're excited to be back together as a unit."
As for the unit's accomplishments these past nine months, Kilbride said he couldn't be prouder of his Soldiers.
"As part of a multinational NATO force, we conducted operations to provide a safe and secure environment, and freedom of movement to the local population," he said. "It was a good deployment for us, and we're really just happy to be back."