An Icelandic volcanic ash cloud has grounded more than 150 soldiers assigned to the 60th Engineer Company scheduled to return this week to Fort Benning after a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, family members who have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of their soldiers since Monday are becoming frustrated with the unit’s fluctuating timetable and perceived communication breakdowns.
“Many people have been (in Columbus) since Sunday or Monday and will have to go home without seeing their loved ones because of job, vacation and family constraints,” wrote William Paupst of Pennsylvania in an e-mail. “Many of these soldiers will now come home to NO ONE to greet them...and the Army tells us nothing!”
Paupst drove 14 hours to Fort Benning for his son’s redeployment, which was originally scheduled for Monday, but has since been rescheduled three times. As of Wednesday evening, the 60th was scheduled to land early Saturday at Lawson Army Airfield at Fort Benning. Lt. Col. Dwayne Smith, commander of the 11th Engineer Battalion, said Wednesday the soldiers have been stranded in Kuwait for about a week and are waiting for the ash cloud covering Europe to dissipate so that flights can resume.
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“The 60th has been ‘bumped’ from at least 4 flights this week,” Paupst wrote in an e-mail. “(Tuesday) they were literally lined up waiting to board the plane and were told they were NOT going home. The ‘target’ date is now Saturday at (2:30) in the morning. Why such a long delay? Why not a sooner flight? WHY IS THE ARMY TELLING US NOTHING?”
Smith insists the engineer company’s family readiness group and rear detachment commander are keeping families informed of the unit’s progress, but there is little else to say about the delay except that it is directly related to the volcanic eruption in Iceland.
“We’re staying in contact with them,” Smith said. “We’re giving them updates. Whenever we get the updates we’re sending it to them. I know it’s very frustrating for the family members, but this is not a situation of the Army or the Department of Defense or anyone else jerking soldiers and families around. This is Mother Nature had a vote and she’s winning right now.”
According to AccuWeather.com, the majority of airpace across Europe reopened Wednesday after a six-day shut down. It appears the violently erupting Icelandic volcano that has been spewing thick ash for more than a week has reentered a quieter stage, AccuWeather.com said.
Aviation officials reported that as many as 95,000 flights have been canceled since April 15, when much of Europe’s airspace was initially closed.
“They’re trying their very best to get caught up on these flights just as the civilian sector is throughout Europe and it’s just taking a long time to get caught up,” Smith said. “And also to get flights to continue to go in to theater whether they’re going in to Iraq or Afghanistan there are still those challenges of redirecting all of those flights.”
The 60th Engineers have been deployed since April 2009.