FORT DRUM After nine months of waiting, the family of 1st Lt. Anthony J. Lester was able to welcome him home from deployment to Afghanistan on Friday morning.
Among the family was Shanon L. Strader, his fiance, along with his mother Zoila L., and big brothers Nicholas M. and Stephen J., and several future in-laws.
Thousands of miles apart, Ms. Strader she had been accustomed to keeping up with her fiance on Skype, but that it just wasnt the same as being together. Being at the ceremony, she said, meant a lot.
Its completion, she said. Its happiness.
Fridays group of about 200 soldiers was the last to return for both the 1st and 2nd Brigade Combat Teams of the 10th Mountain Division, which have been working their way back to the north country for about two months.
The two brigades were in Paktika and Ghazni Provinces, on the eastern side of Afghanistan, where they were advising and training Afghan military and police units.
Theyve done Americas work, said post commander Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend. Were proud of them.
Released following the generals remarks, Lt. Lester, of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, was able to find his family in the rush of hundreds soldiers and family members that flooded the floor of the Magrath Sports Complex.
Lt. Lester and Ms. Strader were engaged in December, just before the start of the deployment, and they plan to bearried around December.
It was a long nine months, Lt. Lester said. Im finally here.
Across the gym, Staff Sgt. Miguel A. Ramirez said he was ecstatic to be back home.
Circled by his wife Mercedes and daughter Aries, he said Im happy to be alive.
Sgt. Ramirez wouldnt have to wait long to celebrate his return. Mrs. Ramirez said she had planned a party for when they got home.
Standing with his wife Brenda I. and daughters Caitlin P., 21, Courtney I., 16, and Kristen A., 11, 2nd Brigade commander Col. Dennis Sullivan said it was sheer happiness to be with his family again.
A lot of sacrifices come with being in the military, he said. This is the biggest one.
The brigade commander said he was encouraged by the progress of Afghan forces, along with the work of his soldiers.
Now that he was home, Col. Sullivan said he was looking forward to going out with his family for pizza.
Col. Sullivan said the ceremony was bittersweet, remembering those that died during the deployment.
Five members arent able to do this, he said.
Brigade members who died during the deployment were Pfc. Mariano Raymundo, Lt. Cols. Jaimie E. Leonard and Todd J. Clark and Sgt. Javier Sanchez, along with attached civilian security contractor Joseph Morabito. Two soldiers from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, Sgt. Anthony R. Maddox and Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis, also died during the deployment.
Video from Fridays ceremony can be seen at http://wdt.me/Welcomehome1018.