FORT POLK — For the past nine months, Soldiers from Fort Polk’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, have battled the dust and heat of Middle Eastern nations, as well as a terrorist organization — ISIS — whose stated goal is the destruction of the United States.
On May 4, the first 249 of the nearly 3,000 Soldiers who left Fort Polk nine months ago began returning, reuniting with Family and friends, sometimes seeing their children for the first time.
As the Soldiers filed into Warrior Fitness Center, cheers from those who filled the bleachers to welcome their heroes home rattled the rafters. As Capt. Marty Harris — commander of the first group of Soldiers who returned — made his way to the front of the formation, his son, Breck, 2 years old, could stand it no longer, and broke away from his mother, Natalie, to sprint to his daddy and leap into his arms.
“I guess he had waited long enough,” Natalie said.
As smiles painted the countenances of the returning Soldiers and “hi daddy” could be heard coming from the crowded seats, Brig. Gen. Patrick Frank, commander, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, “officially” welcomed the Soldiers home.
“This afternoon the most important event on Fort Polk is this welcome home ceremony for the 249 Patriot Brigade Soldiers standing in front of us who have been deployed for nine months across Iraq,” Frank said. “These Soldiers belong to one of the most combat-ready brigades in the United States Army. They were deployed to Operation Inherent Resolve assisting our Iraqi allies to defeat ISIS, and liberate regions of Iraq that are being controlled by the terrorist group.”
Frank recalled the history of the 10th Mountain Division from World War II, through Vietnam and today.
“These Soldiers in front of you have created their own history and added to the 10th Mountain Division’s history,” Frank said. “They have lived up to their motto: ‘Climb to Glory.’”
Then, Frank spoke the words that the Soldiers and their Family members had waited nine months for: “Sergeant Major, release the Soldiers.”
The reaction was immediate as Soldiers and Families sprinted toward each other, exchanging hugs and kisses that lingered longer than usual. Dads hugged their babies for the first time; youngsters shed tears on their Soldiers’ necks; wives and husbands reunited, and moms and dads welcomed home their children.
One such greeting was particularly special, as Sarah and John Hall travelled from Virginia to welcome home their son, Spc. Joe Hall. The Halls had an older son who served in Afghanistan.
“This is not our first experience having a son in combat,” Sarah Hall said. “We had an older son who was in the military and deployed. He did not come home; we are Gold Star parents. We feel like we are finally getting a homecoming.”
Sarah Hall said she was proud of her son’s service, although it was frightening to know he was in harm’s way.
“He’s only 21 — he turned 21 in Iraq — and it’s the longest he’s been separated from us,” she said. “ It’s tough. You just keep living. In life, things happen, so you just go on living. He’s his own man. You’ve let him live his own life and do what he wants to do. You just pray a lot.”
John Hall is a retired Soldier and said he has overwhelming pride in his son. “I spent 20 years in the Army, and even though he told us he wasn’t in danger, we knew he was,” John Hall said. “We might not have known exactly where he was, but he was over there and that was danger in itself. We prayed every day that he would come home, and he did. We’re grateful.”
There were several Soldiers who returned home to meet their offspring for the first time. Spc. Joshua Moseley met his son, 5-month old Joshua Jr. Moseley’s spouse, Erica, said it was tough going through the pregnancy without her husband.
“But he called and texted me nearly every day,” she said. “I’m excited to see my husband, of course, but I’m more excited that he has a son to come home to, that he’s a dad. We had tried for six months, and the doctors were telling me I couldn’t have a baby, but here he is. You can’t tell God ‘no’ when He’s in it.”
Another first time dad, Spc. Phillip Stepp, was all smiles and kisses on seeing his daughter, Emma, 1 month old, for the first time.
“It’s life changing; life changing,” he said.
For 1st Lt. Randall Lunsford, holding 10-week old Laurel was “pretty incredible. This is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. The next 48 hours are going to be pretty unpredictable. But it is awesome. More than I ever thought it would be.”