Fort Bragg’s Green Ramp passenger shed was filled with hundreds of families Tuesday afternoon, some clutching American flags or signs as a brass quintet played.
The families were waiting for the arrival of paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne Division who have been deployed to Poland since February to support NATO after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Waiting to welcome home Spc. Brandon Baker was his parents Marcus and Aisha Baker who had made a six-hour trip from Georgia.
Marcus Baker said they’ve been anxious the past five months while his son was deployed to Europe.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “There was a lot of watching the news.”
Baker said the family can breathe easier knowing that Spc. Baker is back.
“The main thing is just knowing that he’s all right,” he said. “He went and did a job and came back home safely.”
This was the second deployment where Alex Rivas was anxiously awaiting the return of her husband Spc. Marco Rivas.
Rivas said her husband had just returned from a Kuwait deployment before leaving again in February for Poland.
“Back-to-back deployments are stressful,” she said. “I felt like he was here for a minute but was gone the next. It’s been a long 140 days.”
She said she feels like a weight is off her shoulders now that her husband is home, and that the couple plan to celebrate their six-year anniversary.
Holding a sign to welcome back home her husband, Pfc. Alf Ryland, and her husband’s friend “Ring” was Megan Ryland.
The past few months have been “awful,” Ryland said, as the couple weathered back-to-back deployments.
“I’m happy he’s back. We’re actually going to renew our vows since we got married during COVID,” she said.
Paratrooper spouses Sierra Estep, Elyse Parrish, Leslie Taylor and Asia Henderson said they didn’t know each other well before the deployment but bonded to cope with missing their husbands while away.
The women were waiting for Staff Sgt. Elijah Estep, Sgt. Victor Parrish, Sgt. Collin Taylor and Staff Sgt. Daniel Henderson, while wearing outfits that bore the faces of their husbands.
Elyse Parrish said the women are “fun, happy and go-lucky,” and decided to wear the outfits that were also red, white and blue in color because the Fourth of July is coming up We connected. “We bonded, and if it weren’t for them, the deployment would have been so much more stressful,” she said. “So we supported each other, and we were there for each other, and we decided the best way to welcome them home was to wear our husbands on us.”
Anna Quintero and her son Leo Quintero brought their dog Apollo to the Green Ramp passenger shed to welcome home Anna Quintero’s husband, Sgt. Jacob Snowden.
“He missed him a lot at first. My husband thinks the dog doesn’t remember him,” Anna Quintero said.
She said this has been the couple’s second deployment and that “everything that could go wrong did.”
“We’re happy things will be back to normal,” she said.
This has been the first deployment for Jamimah Tamivaa to wait for Sgt. Samuel Tamivaa as a married couple.
Their 11-month-old son Peter was just 7 months old when his father left.
“We’re both in the military, so it’s kind of been rough,” she said.
In the beginning, she said, she was unsure where her husband would be going or for how long. She's relieved it wasn't a nine-month deployment.
“I’m just thankful that he’s back,” she said.
With Peter now able to pull himself up, she said, she’s glad her husband won't miss the baby's first steps.
About 4,200 soldiers with the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, will replace the 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers, according to an Army news release.
During an April 24 news conference, Maj. Gen. Christopher LaNeve, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, said more than 4,700 soldiers in the division were deployed including those with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, the 1st Brigade, the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, and the 82nd Airborne Division Sustainment Brigade and Division Artillery.
LaNeve said the paratroopers are paired with the Polish 18th Mechanized Division for training.
He said there have been “multiple” combined arms and live-fire exercises with the Polish force.
“Someday, we all can look back on this, look back on what the Polish army and the Polish people have done,” LaNeve said. “Almost every military member that I talked to in the Polish army, in this area, has a Ukrainian family living with them. They've opened up their arms to, you know, people … they've never met before.”
Former Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. paratroopers bolstered the eastern flank of NATO to send “a strong signal,” to Russian President Vladimir Putin and reassure NATO allies.
As the doors rolled up to reveal the returning soldiers, the shed erupted into cheers and tears. British Brig. Neil Den-McKay, the 82nd Airborne Division deputy commanding general for interoperability, first thanked the troops for their service before releasing them to their families.
Amid the hugs and laughter all around, even Sgt. Snowden's concern over being forgotten by his dog became a thing of the past as Apollo lathered him in affection. He hadn't forgotten him at all.
Staff writer Rachael Riley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-486-3528.
This article originally appeared on The Fayetteville Observer: 82nd Airborne Division return to Fort Bragg after deployment to Poland