It was a day of celebration and congratulations on a job well done on Aug. 18, 2020, when 112 soldiers from the U.S. Army’s legendary 101st Airborne Division returned home to Fort Campbell after a three-month deployment in Djibouti, Africa.
As part of the East Africa Response Force (EARF), company commander Capt. John Bergman explained to Clarksville Now that their role consisted of “lots of training events, deployment exercises, and just maintaining our sharp edge to support any U.S. assets.”
For the safety of all involved, masks were worn, and proper social distancing protocol was observed to prevent any possible virus-related transmission.
The soldiers returning home are part of the 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, and were serving with Task Force Bulldog Rakkasan. U.S. soldiers in East Africa were called upon for support in January 2020 when Somali-based terrorist group Al-Shabab attacked Camp Simba, the joint U.S.-Kenya airbase on Manda Island.
As Maj. Gen. William Gayler, the director of operations for the U.S. Army’s African Command, told Military Times, “The EARF’s ability to respond to events spanning a vast area of responsibility provides a proven and invaluable on-call reinforcement capability in times of need.”
Thankfully, the group of soldiers who arrived at Fort Campbell did not face combat during their deployment, but they were ready for anything that came their way. Company commander Bergman told Clarksville Now, “We were able to do that with lots of training events, deployment exercises, and just maintaining our sharp edge to support any U.S. assets.”
For the soldiers who had been away from their spouses, children, and pets, it was particularly sweet to be home. “[I]t’s always a relief to get back home to family and friends and continue everyday life back here at Fort Campbell,” 1st Lt. Reid Sealby said.
He noted that though a three-month deployment is shorter than most, “it still feels great” to be home. Sealby was particularly excited to have some downtime with his puppy.
Other families of soldiers held up signs reading “Welcome home, Daddy” and “Out of my way, I get my daddy back today,” expressing their gratitude at getting their loved ones back safe and sound.
Richelle Porter and her 4-year-old daughter Emerson were particularly thrilled to see their returning husband and father, Staff Sergeant Isaac Porter. “I’m super excited,” little Emerson told DVIDS. “I’m going to give him a great big hug and get him to buy me a toy.”
For Staff Sergeant David Stark, it wasn’t a person he was waiting to be reunited with; it was his motorcycle. “I’m most looking forward to just enjoying the outside again,” Stark said. “I love being outside and the weather is better here. And I’m looking forward to riding my Harley.”
Since the soldiers had quarantined for 14 days before their deployment and remained in their bubble during their mission, they could be immediately reunited with their families. To make the event safer, it was held outdoors at the divisional parade grounds rather than the hangar where it usually takes place.
While temperatures were high, as was the humidity, it was nothing to compare to what the soldiers had faced at their base Camp Lemonnier in East Africa. “For Team Bulldog that came in the way of deploying in the hottest part of the year to East Africa,” regiment commander James Stultz explained.
“The average temperature for Djibouti from May until October is a balmy 106 degrees,” Stultz joked. “That’s why you might see some of them shivering on the field today.”
After praising the soldiers for their service, Stultz sent them to get down to the really important business: “Now go see your families,” he ordered.
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