FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – The 'Wings of Thunder' Brigade brought 118 happy soldiers home from a nine-month tour in Afghanistan early Saturday morning while the thunder rolled over Campbell Army Air Field to greet them.
Proud to represent the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, the soldiers greeted their families, friends and fellow soldiers with an outsized shout of "Air Assault!" that would have done twice their number proud.
Representing the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) command group, recently arrived deputy commander for support Col. Frank W. Tate greeted the soldiers with equal enthusiasm, returning a resounding "Welcome home!"
Tate made the speech short, watching the families leaning forward for the run onto the floor of Hangar 3, and after a quick reminder to "watch out for each other the way you have over the past year," he handed the reins back to Maj. Matthew Wingate.
Wingate shouted, "Fall out!" and the rush was on.
'Hardest one yet'
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Shane Greenwood had a squad of family to greet him, including a recent arrival, a 3 month-old baby girl named Beatrice, with an honor guard of four big brothers – twins William and Daniel, 6, Carter, 4 and Jackson, 2 – commanded by wife Dashanda.
DaShanda was relieved to welcome her husband back from his third deployment.
"This was the hardest one yet," she said.
That was also Shannon Queen's assessment of her part of her husband's third deployment. While waiting on the flightline for Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jeremy Queen to exit the aircraft, she held a sign, "37 weeks pregnant. 34 weeks without you. Now let's meet our son."
She expects her son's arrival in three weeks and was thankful for a relatively short deployment so that her husband can share in their next "welcome ceremony."
'Multitude of missions'
Despite the fact that combat operations in Afghanistan today are largely conducted by Afghan troops, the operational tempo for the aviation unit was not any slower than previous deployments, according to 159th public affairs officer Capt. John Giaquinto, who returned home with an earlier flight.
"There was a multitude of missions," said Giaquinto, "providing aviation support for both RC (Regional Command) East and RC North in Afghanistan. They were supporting our troops and helping the Afghans with their missions while they take the lead."
And the unit is on track to return everyone home alive, giving cause for a celebration beyond Saturday's welcome ceremony.
The returns continue with more flights arriving next weekend.