FORT HOOD, Texas — More than 350 Soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division (CD) and 1st Armored Combat Brigade Team (ABCT) are back on U.S. soil, following what for some, has been a more than year-long deployment in Europe. An arrival ceremony after midnight Sunday at Cooper Field at the 1st Cavalry Division Headquarters on Fort Hood helped mark a successful trip back home.
However, those waiting here in the U.S. for returning family members and the soldiers, now back on Central Texas ground, faced a growing sense of anticipation leading up to the late evening event.
Jet lag or a sense of weariness would have been understandable among those arriving today. Despite that soldiers and family were kind enough to speak with 25 News as the emotional reunification scene played out under the nighttime sky.
"I'm so happy to be home with my family here at Fort Hood," Major Larry Harris remarked. "My wife is pregnant, here to see us, and I'll get to go see my daughter in the morning."
The delay, adding to an already lengthy stay in Europe, where soldiers undertook support efforts for Atlantic Resolve, a multifaceted and multinational effort, strengthening NATO and European military readiness and coordination. There, 1st CD Staff served as the headquarters for rotating units in Poznan, Poland for 15 months, while 1st ABCT Soldiers were deployed for nine-month rotations across Europe.
"The virus really can complicate things," Major Larry Harris said. "We were for this appointment operating mostly in Europe and Poland, and there's a lot of code restrictions there. But we really fought to get that training with our allies and our partners to ensure a stronger Europe."
This isn't the first time Major Harris has deployed overseas. In 2011-2012, he said he was deployed to Afghanistan. While his recent time in Europe was not a combat deployment, he said the absence of combat stress was a noticeable change, the family separation aspect of it wasn't different.
"So this was not a combat deployment, but it was a deployment away from home with a very low strategic purpose to strengthen our allies and partners in Europe against adversary aggression," Major Harris said. "So it's a huge mission set for us and very important that we're doing that as a rotational force."
For MAJ Marcellus Simmons, this was his fifth deployment overseas. He said while they deployed in October when the pandemic wasn't at its peak, the dedication and work of others in the First Cavalry always provided comfort in knowing they can overcome any adverse situation that comes their way.
"The good thing about being in the United States Army, you always know there's a backup," MAJ Simmons said. "There's a support system for you. And here at Fort Hood, that support system really kicked in."
That support system has been a constant said 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Tank Commander SFC Miguel Melo. SFC Melo has been on three deployments, and said this recent one was different for him in a number of ways, especially in the role of leader.
"So we were I went to Iraq in 2011, and then I was QRF for Afghanistan and Katara, Bahrain in 2015," he said. "And then this rotation here was definitely different, especially with the Pandemic and whatnot being restricted to a lot of things. But it definitely made us grow more as a unit."
Sitting next to his two daughters and son, SFC Melo's children explain how proud and excited they were in locating their father Monday morning after his deployment.
Melo's son explains his own desire to become a Tank Commander when he's older, as his SFC Melo holds back tears.
"This reunification is special," SFC Melo explains. "Now my children understand what what it means and what it feels to be gone when they're younger. They didn't really understand."
At least for now, along with his family, SFC Melo explains he's got a couple of other things on his mind.
"My sister came up from New Braunfels, and made my favorite Mexican dish that my mom use to make."
Jokingly, SFC Melo also mentions he may make a trip to Whataburger as a side treat.
"Being from Texas, you got to get that triple meat, triple cheese, avocado and bacon and Jalepenos."