FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (Jan 17, 2012) -- The first of nearly 3,000 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division Soldiers, returned Jan. 6 from a 12-month deployment to southern Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, or OEF.

Families and friends, excited to see their Soldiers, waited on the chilly flight line here as the redeploying Soldiers deplaned the contracted aircraft.

Jonathan Webb waited patiently to see his fiancée, Sgt. Jillian Lopez, a human resources, noncommissioned officer, or NCO, for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Task Force Thunder. He said the wait was definitely worth it, despite early hours and low temperatures.

"She's the most amazing woman in the world," he said.

After the 75 returning Soldiers disembarked the aircraft only minutes after 3 a.m., they moved rapidly into the hangar for a welcome home ceremony, during which they were given 15 minutes to reunite with family before forming up once more to turn in sensitive items.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jared Morris, an AH-64 Apache helicopter pilot for Company C, 4th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, was able to recognize his family immediately.

Each time Morris has redeployed, the family makes their own T-shirts and banners, though he never knows exactly what to look for, said his aunt, Candi Alphin.

Though Morris was on the first flight home, it was not soon enough. His daughter was born two days before his return.

During the welcome home ceremony, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Colt, 101st Airborne Division's deputy commander, welcomed the Combat Aviation Brigade, known as CAB Soldiers, home and congratulated them on a job well done.

"You've made sacrifices all the way around," he said. "No matter what your job, you supported the mission. You've done all we've asked."

The 159th CAB deployed in early 2011, assuming the rotary aviation mission throughout southern Afghanistan and the medevac mission throughout south and southwest Afghanistan in March 2011.

Throughout its year-long deployment, the brigade provided full-spectrum aviation operations, to include air assaults, air movements, reconnaissance, security, close combat attack and Pathfinder missions.

During the deployment, Task Force Thunder made history when it became the first CAB to receive, integrate, and execute fixed-wing movements with C27J Spartans and electronic attack missions with C-12 aircraft.

Over the next several weeks, the remainder of the TF Thunder Soldiers will be returning to Fort Campbell. The final flight for returning Soldiers is slated for late February.