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Military police company returns to Fort Drum Friday morning

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FORT DRUM — After about nine months aiding Afghan police and military forces in Kandahar, about 130 soldiers from the 563rd Military Police Company were welcomed home early Friday.

Capt. Nicholas Rothwell, the company’s commander, said soldiers of the unit mentored six Afghan police stations, completed more than 1,300 patrols in the city and helped their Afghan counterparts “wean” off American support.

“They’re a lot less dependent on American forces than before,” he said.

The unit had no deaths during the deployment but suffered what Capt. Rothwell described as a few serious non-combat injuries during its time in theater.

Sitting a few rows off the floor of the Monti Physical Fitness Center, Krystle Leamon waited to see her husband, Spc. Courtland Leamon. Though the two had kept up through Skype and Facebook messages, she admitted her husband’s deployment had caught her off guard, as it happened only three weeks after they had married.

“We missed every holiday,” she said. “He was gone.”

To attend the ceremony, she had driven 13 hours with her mother, Wanda S. Ellerbe, from her hometown of Aberdeen, N.C.

Sitting in the front row of the bleachers, Julie K. Wright waited for her husband, Sgt. Matthew Wright. The previous day, she had whipped up a special Valentine’s Day breakfast for their children, Sophie, 2, and Elliot, 11 months, consisting of pink eggs, pancakes and milk.

For the ceremony, she made her children T-shirts inscribed with “Welcome Home Daddy” and “We Miss You So Much.”

The approximately 150 people in attendance cheered loudly as the company entered, reflecting the anticipation built up from the ceremony’s delay of about an hour as soldiers finished their processing.

After a brief set of remarks, families flooded the gym floor to join their loved ones.

Sgt. Wright, holding Sophie, said he looked forward to getting to know Elliot better.

“Nine months isn’t long, but for little kids it’s a lifetime,” he said, adding that Elliot’s birthday was only a few weeks away.

Spc. Leamon said he looked forward to spending time with his wife, admitting it was hard at first to be away from her.

“I knew I had the right woman who would stay for me,” he said.

Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, the post and 10th Mountain Division commander, praised Mrs. Ellerbe for following his guidance to make sure every returning soldier received a hug or a handshake, noting she hugged a few soldiers who were not even part of the returning group.

“If they were in uniform, she hugged them,” he said.

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