By Sgt. Mark MirandaJuly 19, 2012
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Approximately 150 Soldiers assigned to the 14th Engineer Battalion, 555th Engineer Brigade, reunited with Family and friends at a "homecoming" ceremony July 17, at the Wilson Sports and Fitness Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Lewis North.
The Soldiers completed a 12-month deployment to Afghanistan conducting route clearance in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. This was the unit's first deployment to Afghanistan.
More than 600 Soldiers from the battalion deployed; the unit's remaining Soldiers are expected to return to JBLM within the next several days.
Tara and Brian Hutchison didn't have to travel far from Bonney Lake, Wash., to welcome home their son, Spc. Sean Hutchison, combat engineer, 571st Sapper Company. The couple sat with their daughter-in-law, Marlena Hutchison.
"It will be so good to see him again in person instead of through Skype; depending on how well the Internet was running on his end over there, sometimes it was difficult to make contact that way, Tara Hutchison said.
"We didn't talk much about the missions he was on, mostly we talked about the friends he had there and things he was interested in like baseball and motorcycles. It's good to take your mind off work, separate from those stresses; so we always wanted to give him a taste of life at home whenever he could contact us."
Family and friends of the returning Soldiers gathered at Wilson an hour before the flight's arrival. They watched a live video feed from McChord Field on a large screen, and cheered when Soldiers began to descend from their plane.
Within hours, Soldiers arrived at Wilson by bus and formed up behind a mechanically-raised tarp that divided the main gym, with the waiting loved ones on the other side.
The crowd cheered again as the tarp ascended to the ceiling and the formation of Soldiers marched to within yards of their Families.
Handshakes, hugs and tears of happiness spread across the large room as soon as the formation was released. Marlena Hutchison ran to her husband, whose embrace picked her up off the floor.
"I'm proud of what we've done but I'm so glad to be home. I'm looking forward to wearing something other than a uniform as comfortable clothing -- and sleeping in a comfortable bed," Spc. Hutchison said.
The battalion was spread across three regional commands in southern Afghanistan, an area roughly the size of Washington State.
The frequent missions kept motor transport operators like Spc. Thomas Moore very busy. His wife Savannah, a former water treatment specialist, brought their four-month-old son Ashton to the reunion.
"Ashton was born six days after my ETS (end term of service) date, and four weeks earlier than expected. We tried to move up his leave to be here in time for the birth and were able to bring him home four days afterwards," said Savannah Moore.
Specialist Anthony Ayala, construction equipment repairman, 571st Sapper Co., was happy to see that his mother had travelled from Colton, Calif., to welcome him home with his wife Krystal and daughter Makayla.
"I'm happy to be home, I feel as far away from Helmand Province as I can be right now. My mind isn't on route clearance missions, it's on going on leave and spending time with my Family," Ayala said.