Biggs Field, El Paso, Texas - Bone-tired, bleary-eyed but jubilant to be one step closer to home, Texas Army National Guard Soldiers deplaned in El Paso Saturday after a year-long deployment in Iraq.
One hundred and seven of the 56th Brigade Combat Team Soldiers finally arrived at Biggs Army Air Field after their flight had been delayed three times, and while some would have preferred to go straight to bed, every Soldier knows that in processing is a tedious but necessary process and none of them complained when they were asked to divide into several lines.
Mr. Carlos Escobar, Deputy S-1, knows al about the process. He deployed with the 56th the first time around when he was seriously injured and his right arm had to be surgically repaired with plates and pins. He received a medical discharge from the Texas Army National Guard, and is now employed in the Mobilization & Deployment Brigade as a civilian.
He said: "I have a vested interest that Soldiers who return from Iraq or Afghanistan are processed as quickly and painlessly as possible. I have had to do this in the past, and I know how tired these Soldiers are. We have this down to a science now."
He explained: "They turn in their weapons, go through a quick and initial medical screening; receive their Welcome Home briefing followed by a good night's sleep. Tomorrow," he said, "they will start approximately five days of more extensive medical reviews, and other out briefs."
But before the Soldiers went through the in processing lines, Maj. Gen. Eddy Spurgin, Commander 36th Infantry Division, and the Oklahoma National Guard Band were there at the bottom of the aircraft stairs, to give Col Samuel L. Henry and his troops a befitting welcome.
The band leader explained that they were performing their annual training in Texas to accommodate the multiple inbound flights because the 36th Infantry Division Band was deployed.
Chief Warrant Officer Scott Sanders, Band Leader 145th Army Band of the Oklahoma National Guard, said: "We have 44 total band members, 36 are here today," and he said: "We just came over the bridge to stay here through Friday of next week. We will cover another incoming flight on Wednesday and plan to have a Dixieland band when the troops arrive."
Once inside the terminal, Sgt. Toni Deasen, in charge of awards for the Brigade and Battalions, Spc Lekita Hurd, Radio Transmitter Operator, from Austin, Texas, and Sgt. Ashlee Michalke, Intelligence Analyst, from Hotwells, Texas sat together and waited for the general to speak. They were just three of the approximately dozen female Soldiers returning on this flight, and they all agreed: "We have been treated just like the guys and we would not want it any other way," and added: "but it is good - really good to be back in Texas because it maybe humid over here, but at least it is not tan."
Sergeant Deason, from Ohio, volunteered to deploy with the Texas National Guard for the second time, "because," she said: "They are really good guys, and, "she said with a grin: "I don't hold it against them that they are Texans much."
Sgt. Jason Kendrick, Unit Public Affairs Representative, and constant point of contact in Iraq for the past year, said: "I am very tired, but we had some time to relax in Bangor Maine and at Fort Hood, but I will definitely be happy to be back in Fort Worth soon."
When it was time for the general to welcome his troops home General Spurgin said: "I have been waiting for you guys for the past two days, which evoked a ripple of laughter through the ranks," and continued: "I can't tell you how much it means to me to see you here. I want you to know from the bottom of my heart how proud I am of you. I thought about you everyday. I know you are tired, so I'll make it brief. God Bless each and everyone of you and God Bless your families."
And finally, Colonel Henry said: "Soldier accountability is number one, go through this process just like you would while in Iraq. Do not let your speed overcome your accuracy while you are here. The First Sergeant and I will be working on a little get-together in a little German restaurant," and after a final "Hooah," the Soldiers were dismissed to enjoy a meal and get their first good night's sleep on Texas soil.
A ceremony is planned for these Soldiers and their families, once all 3,500 Soldiers have returned home.