FORT POLK – After a nine-month deployment with Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq, 215 soldiers have returned to Fort Polk.
Soldiers’ friends and family waited to be reunited with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division This morning.
The packed AEX Soldier Processing Center on Fort Polk played host to tearful and happy reunions.
Mariah Rodriguez waited 276 days for her husband, Specialist Lucas Rodriguez, to come home.
"It's been hard," she said. "I've had to be both mom and dad while he's been gone.
"I'm looking forward to going on vacation."
Mariah and her three kids were excited to see Spc. Rodriguez again, and the time away gave her more sympathy for families of soldiers on longer deployments.
"It's been extremely hard, and I definitely feel for the ones that have been in longer and have had to go multiple times," Mariah said.
"I just hope I don't ugly cry when he comes in."
Col. Brian Sullivan oversaw the 215 soldiers and their mission while overseas.
"The mission was to complete the destruction of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), which we did in Iraq," Sullivan said. "That was announced this past December. But ISIS is a resilient enemy, so we recognized that we had to maintain relentless pressure on ISIS, even after victory was declared.
“Just a few weeks ago, Iraq experienced its most secure national election since it became a free democratic nation."
Operation Inherent Resolve is a Combined Joint Task Force which has unified 64 nations. “It was intended to reflect the unwavering resolve and deep commitment of the U.S. and partner nations in the region and around the globe, to eliminate the terrorist group ISIS and the threat they pose to Iraq, the region, and the wider international community,” SFC Jose R. Colon of U.S. Central Command in Iraq said in an interview with the Leesville Daily Leader. “The task force applies all available dimensions of national power – diplomatic, informational, military, economic – to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS."
This is not Sullivan’s first deployment, but it is his first since becoming a father.
"Coming home is the best part of every deployment," he said. "They're overjoyed with emotion, just to be home with their loved ones and to be able to hug their kids, and for some of them, for the first time. It's just a joyous day for all of them.
"This is my first deployment as father, so this one has been different. This reunion is that much sweeter. I'm looking forward to the next couple of days with my wife and my son."
Sarah Atencio was waiting to welcome her daughter, Sgt. Emilia Holmes, home from her first deployment.
"It's been a long wait," she said. "It's been anticipation since the very beginning. I've been taking care of her children for the last five months. It's been a challenge."
Atencio expects her daughter to remain in the Army, making this just one her possible deployments.
"I'm always going to be there for her," Atencio said. "She's probably going to retire from the Army, so I just give her and the Army my full support.
"I'm going to hug her and hold her as long as she lets me."