By Kari Hawkins (The Redstone Rocket)October 29, 2012
Spc. Troy Jones went to war with a computer in his duffle bag.
On Sunday, his 4-year-old son Jake tried to carry that duffle bag for his daddy.
But the computer equipment inside made it too heavy for him, even with the help of his sisters, 5-year-old Nicolet and 3-year-old Elizabeth.
The Florence family, including mom Nicole, greeted their Soldier in a parking lot at the Huntsville International Airport. A group of 127 Alabama National Guard Soldiers from the 115th Expeditionary Signal Battalion returned home Sunday by charter flight into Signature Flight Support. Nearly 200 more Soldiers with the unit are expected home later this month.
The 450 Soldiers of the 115th, based in Florence with many of its members from Huntsville, have been headquartered at the Kandahar airfield, Afghanistan, for the past year. Its Soldiers were located at 37 different forward operating bases in the northern, southern and eastern regions of Afghanistan, to provide communications support to joint international commands including the International Security Assistance Force, said Maj. James Brannan, the battalion's executive officer. The unit, under the command of Lt. Col. Steven Grigsby, was responsible for ensuring that telephone and computer networks remained operable.
"It was hot, dusty and miserable at times," Brannan said of the conditions in Afghanistan.
"We had over 100,000 subscribers on the computer network just in the southern region," Brannan said. "We handled a lot of help desk calls. We supported the phone networks and the computer networks along with line-of-site radios between FOBs. We also did a lot of commercialization of the systems."
Following guidance from the Army Network Enterprise Technology Command based at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., the 115th continued work started by a Nevada National Guard unit that replaced much of the military communications equipment used on the battlefield with commercial off-the-shelf technology that is easier to manage, maintain and interchange. The commercial equipment communicates using a military satellite dish on the battlefield.
Many of the Soldiers were greeted Sunday by young children. Elaine Harrah of Madison and her three children -- Clarity, 4, Liam, 3, and Evie, 19 months -- were glad to have their Soldier, Spc. Eric Hannah, home.
"It's been a long year," she said. "We don't have any family here. So, we did it by ourselves along with the help of friends. We survived."
Sgt. Jason Lebichak was greeted by several members of his family, including his cousin, 9-year-old Lauren, who held a "Welcome Home Jason" sign, and his 90-year-old grandmother Marie Pylant, all of Huntsville.
"The deployment was really rough and long. It was different this time because it was my first time being married and with a baby," Lebichak said.
The Soldier has deployed previously to Iraq, Kosovo and Saudi Arabia in 15 years of service with the National Guard. During this deployment, he worked as an intelligence analyst for the French Tactical Operations Center in the eastern region of Afghanistan.
"We had some rocket attacks and we were shot at. But it was more of a nuisance than anything else," Lebichak said of conditions at the FOB where he was located.
He plans to spend some quality time with his family before returning to work at Redstone Arsenal as a ManTech contractor at Von Braun III.
His wife of three years, Misty, and their 2-year-old daughter Alyssa, are glad the deployment is over.
"I talked to him a lot on the phone and I cried. You just have to live day by day," his wife said.
Lebichak was also greeted by his best friend, Jason Stinnett, and his new wife Loretta.
"They got married yesterday and I was supposed to be the surprise best man. I even rented a tux. But I wasn't there," he said. "We were supposed to get back earlier than we did. I missed the wedding by 20 hours."