FORT RILEY, Kan. (WIBW) -- It was a memorable Valentine's Day for hundreds of military families at Fort Riley as members of the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team were reunited with their loved ones following a nine month deployment to Afghanistan.
Members of the 1st Infantry Division's “Dragon” Brigade were welcomed home in two ceremonies Thursday at Fort Riley. The first contingent of soldiers arrived at 1 AM and the second group was greeted by their family members and friends at 5:30 PM. The brigade has been returning home in waves over the past several weeks.
"You never get tired of watching homecomings like this and it being on Valentine’s Day was just icing on the cake," said Colonel Brad Laauwe with the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
"I’m so essentially happy, happy, happy that she made it back home safely. I didn’t ever lose faith that she wouldn’t return home. It’s the best Valentine’s Day in my entire 47 years of life," added Ruby Bohler. She traveled from South Carolina to greet her daughter, Specialist Brittany Sunkett.
Three thousand 4th Brigade soldiers joined the 1st Infantry Division’s headquarters in Eastern Afghanistan in April where the "Big Red One" was tasked with leading a regional command. They took charge of military operations in an area roughly the size of Virginia.
Operating as Combined Joint Task Force-1, the 1st Infantry Division has commanded and controlled operations throughout RC-East which includes 14 provinces, 7.5 million Afghans and 450 km of a mountainous Pakistan border.
It was the brigade’s third deployment since it was activated at Fort Riley in 2006. The soldiers did two rotations to Iraq but it was their first deployment to Afghanistan. The brigade’s mission was to enable Afghanistan’s government, security forces and economy to operate more independently.They worked to train Afghan security forces.
Nearly 70 percent of the brigade has returned to Fort Riley. The remaining soldiers will continue to return throughout upcoming weeks.
The first group of soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion also returned home this week. They were reunited with their families Monday after their year-long deployment. More flights are expected through next month.
Soldiers 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division – including the brigade’s command team – are set to return to Fort Riley Sunday. At the 12:30 p.m. redeployment ceremony, Col. Joseph Wawro and Command Sgt. Maj. Wylie Hutchison will uncase the brigade’s colors, signifying the brigade’s return to Fort Riley.