Military News

JBLM bomb-squad soldiers return from Afghanistan to loving arms

“Married 1 year tomorrow, spent nine months apart,” read a sign held by 20 year-old Kadee Layton, whose husband, Andrew, was just returning to Joint Base Lewis-McChord from a tour in Afghanistan.

While she waited in a gym packed with hundreds of other military family members, Layton had more simple words prepared for when she would finally embrace her husband.

“I love you, missed you,” she said.

More than 90 soldiers were reunited with their families Monday afternoon after a tough, nine-month deployment for JBLM’s 22nd Engineer Clearance Company. The small unit was responsible for finding buried bombs before they could hurt U.S. soldiers or their Afghan allies.

“I’m exceptionally proud of the discipline and skills displayed by my company,” said company Commander Capt. Daniel Brady. “It’s been difficult, but I’m proud to serve my country.”

Homecomings are getting few and far between at JBLM as the war comes to a close. The engineers have a specialized mission that could keep them and similar units going to Afghanistan until the last troops come home.

Four soldiers from Brady’s company were injured during the deployment, and one, Pvt. Reymon Tolentino, was killed in a car accident on Interstate 5 just after he returned from Afghanistan in February.

Spc. Phillip Crouse was among the soldiers injured while deployed. He was hurt when a hatch from his armored vehicle fell on his head, requiring four staples to close the wound.

His wife, Brittany, greeted him Monday with a surprise. She lost 100 pounds during the deployment.

“He’s seen pictures of me and we’ve talked on Skype but it’s nothing compared to how I look in person,” she said.

Her husband’s eyes lit up with a slight glimmer of a tear as he saw her for the first time while wrapping his arms tenderly around her.

“She’s beautiful,” Phillip Crouse said. “Family is everything to me.”

The Crouse family is looking forward to a trip to Ocean Shores. And Phillip Crouse said he’s eager to eat his mom’s homemade macaroni salad on the Fourth of July.

He held his five-year-old son Noah, who intermittently kissed him on the cheek, causing a smile to crack on his dad’s face each time.

“Everyone has water in their eyes,” Noah said as he scanned the room, watching other tearful mothers, wives, husbands and children.

Pfc. Andrew Layton was thrilled to smell Northwest evergreens when he landed at JBLM. It was an improvement from the rugged landscape where he lived for most of the past year.

“When we got off the plane, (I smelled) the smell of fresh air and not dirt and human waste,” he said. “Green grass and trees.”

The Laytons are looking forward to starting fresh because they missed their first year of marriage. Kadee Layton said they’re headed to their home state of Colorado to visit family and a friend’s newborn baby.

The soldier’s next mission? Deciding how he was going to surprise his wife Tuesday for their first anniversary, he said.