FORT DRUM — It was a new experience for Spc. Cody E. Doench, as he returned Tuesday with about 130 3rd Brigade Combat Team soldiers following a nine-month deployment in Afghanistan.
About a month after he left for the eastern side of the country, his wife, Kristan E., gave birth to a daughter, Allison Mae. Now back at home, Spc. Doench was able to hold her for the first time.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “There’s no words.”
The soldiers and a military working dog marked their return to the north country with a ceremony at the Magrath Sports Complex. They are the first from the brigade to return.
The brigade’s soldiers have served in a variety of advisory roles during their deployment, aiding the country’s military and police forces as they took the lead in protecting major events such as the country’s presidential elections.
Brig. Gen. Michael L. Howard, the post’s rear commander, said the group was “no stranger” to deployments or hard work.
He added the returning group also included a small number of soldiers from the division’s headquarters.
Margot N. Giuliano, who traveled to post from Philadelphia, Pa., with her husband, Robert M. Giuliano, said the knowledge that her son, 1st Lt. Christopher Giuliano, was safe came as a huge relief.
“You’re not really fine,” she said. “You can never get it out of your mind. That last week can’t come fast enough.”
After the ceremony, Lt. Giuliano said he was looking forward to setting up a new apartment and heading to the beach.
“There aren’t nerves,” he said about coming home. “Just a lot of excitement to get back.”
Tina M. Gardner, mother of Pfc. Ryan M. Gardner, said she treated the timing of her son’s nine-month deployment like a pregnancy.
“Those last two weeks drag on forever,” she said. His father, Mark, who deployed overseas as a member of the Navy during the Gulf War, said his son’s return was like a late Father’s Day gift.
Surrounded by family, Pfc. Gardner said he was happy to be out of Afghanistan. The celebration plans for the larger Gardner party were simple.
“I just want a beer,” Pfc. Gardner said.
Tuesday’s group is the first of many groups that will return soon, as about 2,000 brigade soldiers remain in the country.
Video from the ceremony can be seen at http://wdt.me/0617_homecoming.