JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. --Families and friends eagerly awaited with open arms and anxious smiles as soldiers returning from combat made their way into Wilson Sports and Fitness Center, Joint Base Lewis-McChord-North, for a special holiday welcome home ceremony, Dec. 16.
The return of more than 280 Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division from Afghanistan proved to be a special gift to those Family members at JBLM.
Valerie Kagan and her son, Sean, eagerly waited for their holiday gift, Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Kagan, 2nd Bde., 2nd Inf. Div., to finally come home.
"This was a special surprise that we were not expecting," Kagan said. "Just having him home is a gift that we couldn't be more thankful for.
We had planned on just waiting and having Christmas wait for him. It wouldn't be the first time that we changed the calendar to suit us."
Before the Soldiers could scatter to their awaiting Family members, Col. Ken Kamper, commander, 17th Fires Brigade, took the opportunity to congratulate the returning members of the Lancer brigade.
"To the soldiers just returned, we are proud of you, proud of each and everyone of you," Kamper said. "Lancers are protectors, men and women of the Army. We are proud of everything you did. You made a difference and we are glad your home."
Kamper did not forget those who supported their soldiers from home.
"We are proud of each and every one of the Family members, loved ones and friends who are here today," said Kampers. "It has been a tough nine and ten months."
Fortunately, the time away from home didn't mean that the Soldiers were completely cut off from their Families. A few resources, such as the United Service Organizations, in the combat zone allowed for a connection to their loved ones at home.
"The USO was doing a read-a-book on DVD's, so my husband read a few of those for Sean, and Sean was able to watch him read books before bed every night. That was very helpful," said Kagan. "We had also done a couple record-a-story books, which had been our son's favorite toys."
Some returning soldiers had new babies to meet in person for the first time.
"It means everything to be home for the holidays. It's amazing, " said Spc. Jonathon Molina, 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment, who had a new daughter to get to know. "I had seen her first steps, her first words on Skype. So now I'll be able to see her do everything in person."
This is just the first group of Lancer Soldiers returning to JBLM from Afghanistan; the rest will return and be reunited with their Families sometime after the New Year.