By Colleen Flaherty
Fort Hood Herald
The hundreds of thousands of deployed soldiers who have returned to Fort Hood since 2003 may not know Tony Rossi's face, but they most likely know his music.
The disc jockey has pumped up crowds at more than 400 homecoming ceremonies since the Iraq War began, but "it never gets old," Rossi said late Tuesday night while waiting for the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, to arrive at Cooper Field.
Surveying the growing crowd from inside his disc jockey booth, he said, "You see the looks on these families' faces. It brings tears to your eyes. You'd have to be a callous (person) not to feel the electricity."
The lst Battalion, 8th Cavalry was one of the final 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division units to return from Operation New Dawn in Iraq. Since deploying in May, troopers trained Iraqi army units out of Contingency Operating Base Warhorse in Diyala province. They moved to Kuwait in early fall, functioning as a strategic reserve unit for U.S. Forces-Iraq.
The battalion came home early following the end of U.S. troop involvement in the country. The rapid redeployment of Fort Hood troops from Iraq since August - starting with the 3rd Cavalry Regiment and followed by the 1st Cavalry Division's 2nd, 3rd and 4th brigade combat teams among other units often arriving in the middle of the night - has meant little sleep for Rossi. But complaining isn't in his playlist.
"It's an honor and privilege to serve these guys," said the Vietnam War veteran. "Everyone deserves a homecoming like this."
Despite the 90-minute ceremony delay in the evening cold, Rossi kept the mood light with his eclectic mix of dance tunes from various decades and genres. The sequence of songs became more familiar as the soldiers got closer to Cooper Field from Robert Gray Army Airfield.
"I always play James Brown's 'I Feel Good' when the plane is on the ground," he said, "then 'YMCA' when they've left the airfield."
Rossi, 64, retired from the Army through Fort Hood in 2000 and became a full-time disc jockey. In 2003, post officials recruited him to spin at a homecoming, and he hasn't stopped since.
He volunteered his services for the first one and a half years of the Iraq War, but now accepts payment from Fort Hood. However, the rates haven't changed since 2004, Rossi said. "I didn't want to be a war profiteer."
In the crowd, Courtney Kichta of Fort Hood bounced her 9-month-old son, Liam, around her lap to the music, lifting him up in the air with each chorus. She and her mother-in-law, Susan Fishbaine of Pittsburgh, laughed at the surprised expression on the baby's face as they waited for Spc. Joshua Kichta. He deployed when his son was just 20 days old.
"This is like our entertainment," said Fishbaine of Liam's dancing.
Kichta, 25, said the music helped calm her nerves as she waited for her husband. "It makes it a lot more exciting and makes the time pass."
'Move that bus!'
As with every homecoming on Cooper Field, Rossi marked the arrival of the telltale white buses on Battalion Avenue with a rhyme into his microphone: "Families, look to right, look to your rear ... The buses with your loved ones are here!"
As the soldiers filed off the buses across the field, Rossi cued triumphant, Jock Jams-style music and led the crowd in a chant: "Move that bus! Move that bus!"
When the final bus pulled away, revealing the veterans advancing in formation, the DJ roared, "Ladies and gentlemen, America's heroes are home!"
Tears rolled down Kichta's cheeks as the music temporarily stopped and battalion commander Lt. Col. Peter A. Sicoli led the uncasing of the unit's colors. "I'm looking forward to finally being a family again," she said.
Cleared to "charge" the field, the young mother and Fishbaine rushed to find Joshua Kichta in the sea of soldiers. Within a few yards, they were face-to-face with the specialist. His mother and wife clung to him, teary-eyed, as he assessed the growth of his young son. Russell Murphy's suddenly sentimental "Welcome Home Faithful Soldier" played in the background.
"He's a lot bigger," Joshua said of Liam, as he kissed his wife.
In his booth, Rossi wasted no time transitioning to Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get it On." Seeming to take the hint, the Kichtas and other soldiers and their families began to clear the field.
Mingling with his remaining troopers, division rear detachment commander Col. Philip Battaglia smiled and praised Rossi's work.
"He is awesome," said the colonel. "He's here every time and probably does the best job of anyone here keeping track of the crowd and letting them know what's going on. He's absolutely indispensable."
Walking away, Battaglia doubled back and said, "P.S., his music is good, too. DJ Tony is all right."
With the war in Iraq over, Rossi said he knows he won't be as busy as he has been. But, he said, shrugging, "I guess it's not a bad job to be out of."