The airplane carrying the first wave of soldiers being redeployed from Iraq to Fort Benning landed at Lawson Army Airfield at 1:48 a.m. Sunday.
Approximately 200 soldiers of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division were on board.
One of those was Spc. Shawn Smierciak. The young man from New Jersey has something important to do now that he has returned.
“I’m going to get to know my son,” he said.
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Shawn Smierciak Jr. is 9 months old, and dad has spent only three weeks with him.
“That’s what really makes it hard being away,” Smierciak said.
His wife Tina, a former soldier who met her husband at Fort Benning, said it’s been difficult for her as well.
“The good thing is we’ve been able to communicate with each other on the Internet,” she said. “That makes it a little easier. I’m an Army brat, and I remember how big it was to get that phone call from my dad.”
The couple will soon be going to Germany. “We’re going to see the world,” she said.
Also on hand to greet Smierciak were Ikeya Thompson and other members of his motorcycle club, the Ruff Ryders.
“We’re ready to get him back on the road,” Thompson said.
Smierciak said the mission of the troops, who deployed last October, was different from his first deployment.
“We were more behind the scenes this time instead of being out front as we worked to bring stability to the infrastructure,” he said.
The goal of the brigade’s deployment has been to help close or turn over control of bases in Babil, Najaf, Diwaniyah, Karbala and Wasit provinces to the government of Iraq.
Many friends and family members were in Freedom Hall to meet the troops. They carried posters and balloons and cheered loudly when their loved ones marched into the auditorium.
It’s a scene that will be repeated several times before the end of October, when some 3,000 soldiers are expected to have made it back.
The parents of Spc. Christopher Alderman were among those on hand for the Sunday celebration.
“I don’t care if I were to lose my job. Nothing could keep me from being here,” said Alan Alderman, who, along with wife Jan, drove from Round Rock, Texas, to Fort Benning.
“I have Christopher’s motorcycle in the back of my pickup,” he said.
Jan said the two have been present both times that their son has been deployed and both times he has returned,
“It’s something we have to be here for,” she said. “We got here early.”
“Yeah, we arrived on Thursday,” said the soldier’s father, who is a truck driver. “These guys are heroes. They need to be shown respect.”
He served in the Army and was in Vietnam.
“If you’ve been a soldier, you know what these guys are going into. It makes coming to a deployment very difficult. I’m glad he’s back.”
His son was excited to hear about the motorcycle. Smiling, he said he’ll have to get his permit.
“It feels good to be back,” said Christopher Alderman, who is headed to Fort Hood in January. “I don’t have anything special planned. I just want to spend time with family. That will be great.”