Children squirmed in their seats while family and friends kept their cameras close as members of the 4th Squadron, 6th Air Cavalry Regiment marched into the gym at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Within seconds after their return ceremony ended with a few words from a commander, the gym filled with laughter as soldiers dispersed into a sea of hugs.
The helicopter unit returned to JBLM on Wednesday afternoon after a nine-month deployment to South Korea. It will be disbanded within months as part of the Army’s downsizing efforts.
Jennifer Williams was in the audience with her two sons waiting to see her husband Darryl, a helicopter fueler. She said the family will enjoy some much-needed time together.
“Probably travel a little, get some family time in again,” Jennifer Williams said.
Even though her husband served a tour in Afghanistan in 2010, she said this deployment seemed harder.
As for the family’s plans after the unit is disbanded, she said she’d like to be stationed in Germany or back in her home state of Texas.
Although Wednesday was exciting for Bridget Cook and her two sons, she said this was the fifth homecoming ceremony they have attended as a family.
“It’s not my first merry-go-round,” she said.
She said it was easier having her husband gone during the school year because her son Noah, 7, had friends and sports teams to take his mind off the separation.
Still, Cook she said the deployment was tough because she doesn’t have family in the South Sound.
Sgt. Maj. Owen Simmons said the unit will officially disband Sept. 15. He said two-thirds of the soldiers will be transferred to other units at JBLM, while the other third will retire or be reassigned to other bases.
The squadron’s OH-58 Kiowa helicopters were left in South Korea. Chief Warrant Officer 2 Vanessa Stedman said the aviators will continue to train on simulators to keep their skills up until the unit is inactivated.
The 400-member squadron provided armored reconnaissance at Camp Humphrey in South Korea and took part in joint exercises with the South Korean military.
Ryan Tarinelli: (253) 597-8670