Brigade homecoming delayed by flight availabilities

More than 350 soldiers from the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team have been cooling their heels for the last week in Kuwait, waiting for chartered aircraft to transport them back home to Fort Benning.

When will the advance party of the brigade finally touch down at Lawson Army Airfield?

"We're thinking in the next couple of days," said brigade commander Col. Wayne Grigsby via telephone today from his office at Forward Operating Base Hammer near Baghdad.

Getting the group, which is made up of troops from all six battalions, to Kuwait was the easy part.

But limited aircraft availability has slowed the departure schedule.

"Everybody in the Army's chain of command are working hard to get our soldiers back," said Grigsby.

Once a flight is confirmed for the brigade soldiers, families back home will be notified of an expected arrival time.

An email from the frustrated wife of a brigade soldier said: "It just seems as though they never have a problem getting them there or getting them back there from R&R, but there is always some kind of delay in getting them home."

Freedom Hall, the terminal at Lawson Army Airfield, is already decorated with "Welcome Home" signage. That's because the ADVON, or advance party, was expected back last weekend.

Grigsby does not see a delay in the return of the entire brigade, scheduled for the first couple weeks of May. "We're making sure that all soldiers in the brigade with special family events coming up, especially high school graduations, go to the front of the line," he said. When Grigsby was reached Tuesday, he was busy cleaning out his own office to make way for his replacement, Col. Pat White, commander of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division.

The Germany-based unit will follow the 3rd HBCT into FOB Hammer.

Meanwhile, it's business as usual for the brigade. "We will keep constant pressure on the extremists while we're here," he said. "Especially during this time of transition."

While travel plans for the advance team are, uhh, up in the air, there's a good chance another Benning unit could be returning from Iraq as soon as Wednesday or Thursday.

The public affairs office at Fort Benning said Tuesday that it expects a group of soldiers from the 598th Maintenance Company to arrive at Lawson Field any day now but would not know specifics until Wednesday morning.

The 598th left Fort Benning in February 2007 under the command of Capt. Andrea Rogers. A unit of the 13th Combat Sustainment Support Brigade, the 170-soldier company was on its third deployment to Iraq since 2003.