By Don Kramer, Northwest GuardianJune 26, 2007
Nothing was going to dampen the festive mood June 15 at Wilson Fitness Center - not delays in the air, on the McChord Air Force Base tarmac or even during weapons turn-in.
Some 200 Soldiers of the 593rd Sustainment Brigade were headed home, no matter what, from a deployment they began on June 28, 2006.
Never mind that some spouses started pounding signs into the ground around the gym at 3 p.m., as local TV trucks started arriving. When 8:30 rolled around and the buses finally pulled in, nothing else mattered. The 593rd turned over its responsibilities to the 507th Corps Support Group on June 12. The brigade had covered 6.1 million road miles in Iraq in the course of performing nearly 2,100 combat patrols. With a relatively small organization, the 593rd had taken responsibility for logistics support for western Iraq under the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary).
On top of their primary mission, the Soldiers and staff also managed a transition from the corps support brigade that departed Fort Lewis to the sustainment brigade that returned.
They handled the last few miles home without complaint, knowing what was waiting for them.
Wives, mothers and girlfriends smiled despite the delays, and friends and fiances shared deployment survival stories while awaiting their "rest assured" brigade Soldiers.
Seth and Will Quinton, ages 3 and 6, worked the crowd in the bleachers, waving small American flags.
Their dad, Staff Sgt. Quinton, a paralegal, would be easy to pick out from the rest, his brother told fellow crowd members. He's 6 feet 8 inches tall.
The Froehlichs, wife Holly and sons Keith, 13, Travis, 9, and Dylan, 4, were there to greet Chief Warrant Officer 2 Wade Froehlich, back from his second deployment in less than three years. The food service warrant had first seen Iraq as a member of the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division. The family, meanwhile, weathered the deployment among friends in its Lacey neighborhood.
"We're ready for him to be home for a while and not deploy," said Holly. The boys agreed they missed wrestling with their dad for the past year, though Travis added that he mostly missed "just hanging out" with him. The Froehlichs were awaiting the perfect moment to spring a surprise Disneyland trip on the 11-year veteran chief.
At the end of the bleachers, 3-year-old Ziah Pace went uncharacteristically silent during the wait.
"He's shy here, but when we're at the house, I can't keep him quiet," said his mom, Sandra. "It's been hard; he misses him so much." Mother and son were looking for a glimpse of Spc. Jason Pace, a cook, back from his first deployment and the family's first separation in the four-year marriage.
Wife and son had returned home to New York to wait out the year with both sides of the family.
Five Taylors, including a new one, waited to greet Sgt. Michael Taylor. They had stayed in their Spanaway home and near Amber's family and support system, until she came to full term with their most recent addition.
Taylor timed his mid-tour leave to coincide with Emily's induced birth five months ago, but he hadn't seen his new daughter since. Their sons Jason, 11, and Justin, 9, and daughter Kayla, 4, revealed secret plans of a brownie sundae surprise party awaiting dad at home, along with sister, Kaitlyn, 2.
The festive din of conversations grew with arriving waves of family and friends, local media and dignitaries, cheerleaders and even a nationally famous entertainer.
John Ratzenberger, whom many recognized as his Cliff Claven character from the hit television series, "Cheers," arrived at 6 p.m., chatting and signing copies of his new book until the troops appeared.
Atlanta Falcons cheerleaders signed pictures and smiled until their cheeks went numb, they joked.
But all crowd members agreed that the wait was a small price for the coming reward. They roared when the partition rolled upward to the ceiling, revealing the single formation of combat service- and service-support Soldiers.
The commander, Col. Richard P. Burns, and Command Sgt. Major Robert D. Haymans uncased the brigade colors, quickly dispatching the ceremonial part of the return. The remarks of the speakers, Burns and Brig. Gen. William Troy, were short. They congratulated the brigade on a job well done and the families and friends for staying "Army strong."
"When you go out and talk to people, I want you to remember that what you did was in Iraq, but not just for Iraq," Troy said. "It was for the defense of the United States of America, our freedom and our liberty."
Burns declared that the brigade's mission for the evening was to reunite with families, and with that, the Soldiers covered the last 100 feet of their return home in light speed.