Posted online at 11:42 a.m. Saturday It’s been nearly 13 months since Shawnie Salgado’s husband deployed to Iraq.
That’s 13 months of loneliness. Thirteen months of juggling work and motherhood. Thirteen months of apprehension every time someone knocked on the door or called late at night.
Those 13 months ended Saturday.
Her husband, Army Capt. Joseph Salgado, and about 110 other members of an advance party of the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division returned to Fort Lewis, and enthusiastic friends and family members greeted the returning warriors.
The advance party consists of soldiers from each of the brigade’s battalions and companies. Their job is to help prepare for the return of the brigade’s remaining 3,500 to 4,000 soldiers, who will come home in the next few months.
Hundreds of people filled bleachers at Sheridan Gym for the ceremony. A live video feed projected onto a large screen on one of the gymnasium’s walls followed the return of the troops, beginning with footage of their commercial charter jet landing at McChord Air Force Base.
Once on the ground, the cameras followed the soldiers as they went through arrival procedures. In the minutes before they entered the gym, the screen displayed a montage of still photos taken in Iraq. A six-piece brass band played patriotic songs. Homemade signs adorned the walls.
The crowd silenced seconds before the troops entered. Then it burst into deafening, euphoric cheers. The soldiers marched in formation and stood at attention on a blue tarp spread across the gym floor. The noise level spiked every few seconds when a family spotted a loved one.
It didn’t take long for Shawnie Salgado, a Lacey resident and lieutenant stationed at Fort Lewis, and her 17-month-old son, Aiden, to spot Joseph. He was the first to enter the gym. She waved excitedly. His eyes – like most of the soldiers’ – darted across the audience while he marched.
Only after he entered, Shawnie Salgado said after the ceremony, did it hit her that her husband’s deployment was over.
“I went through different emotions the whole time” while he was deployed, she said. “I went through emotions where I was lonely and sad. I went through emotions that I was so proud. I was filled with pride. I would walk around with my head high and be like, ‘My husband is serving in Iraq and doing amazing things.’
“It was like a roller coaster the whole time.”
A chaplain led the audience in prayer. The band played the national anthem. Brig. Gen. Jeff Mathis, the acting deputy commanding general of I Corps, delivered a short speech.
Maj. Kevin Lambert then turned to the soldiers and dismissed them. Within seconds, the troops and family members rushed to each other. Parents picked up and hugged their kids. Spouses embraced each other and kissed.
Lambert dropped to his knees to hug his two daughters, 9-year-old Abigail and 5-year-old Anna Paige. He closed his eyes and held them closely – one under each arm – while his wife, Shannon, beamed.
“It’s over with,” he said. “You start thinking about different things now. It’s just good to be back.”
The brigade spent most of its tour in Baghdad and Diyala province and took the lead in operations to combat al-Qaida in Iraq. The brigade has lost 37 soldiers since it left for Iraq in April 2007.
The effects of the grueling tour – and a flight from Kuwait that made stops in Germany and Maine – were evident on the fatigued faces of many soldiers.
“It was a long deployment, but it’s definitely good to be home,” said Master Sgt. John Wear, who was greeted by his wife, Christine, and their 13-year-old son, Chance.
Several groups ensured that single soldiers without family in the area didn’t return to an empty room. Becky Sheline and Jill Carlson hung posters and waved miniature American flags during the ceremony. They also had decorated several soldiers’ rooms and stocked them with food, towels and other necessities.
Both have husbands still deployed to Iraq, and watching the video of the advance party’s plane landing was a huge moment for both of them.
“I was ecstatic,” Carlson said. “It brings tears to my eyes. Our guys are next. They’re really coming home.”
The ceremony lasted less than an hour. Some soldiers, after greeting their family members, jogged to pick up their bags and go home. Less than 20 minutes after the advance party was dismissed, the only soldiers remaining were sweeping the floors and taking down decorations.
And, just like that, the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division began its return from Iraq.
“I feel great,” Joseph Salgado said as he stepped out into the cool, cloudy morning. “This feels awesome. It just hit me about 10 minutes ago.
Scott Fontaine: 253-320-4758