FORT HOOD — Despite below-freezing temperatures, families embraced 86 1st Cavalry Division troops returning from Afghanistan with a warm welcome home before sunrise Tuesday morning at Cooper Field.

Bouncing her 7-month-old daughter on her lap, Ruby Blackwell waited anxiously for her husband, Sgt. Jacob Blackwell, to arrive.

The deployment, the third for her husband, was difficult on Ruby Blackwell and her family, which also includes her older daughters, ages 4 and 7.

“But it was a nice surprise,” Ruby Blackwell said, of learning that her husband was returning two months early, “just in time for Christmas.”

The homecoming included 2nd Brigade soldiers with the 15th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion and 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, as well as three soldiers with the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, said Lt. Col. Kirk Luedeke, 1st Cavalry Division public affairs officer.

“The mission is changing and requirements are constantly evolving,” Luedeke said, which resulted in the soldiers returning two months earlier than expected. “It was great news for them and their families.”

Still, the “Black Jack” Brigade is spread out across Afghanistan, with the bulk of the soldiers remaining deployed, he said.

“They did a great job; we’re extremely proud of them,” Luedeke said. “It is terrific that some can come back and enjoy the holidays.”

Mary Soisson waited for her husband, Spc. Matthew Soisson, alongside her 2-year-old daughter, Kara, and 7-year-old son, Cole. She credited her support system and excellent child care with helping ease deployment woes.

“We just tried to live life as normal (as possible),” she said.

The reunited family planned to cuddle up and watch movies Tuesday night after decorating their Christmas tree.

As the soldiers arrived, Blackwell stood, her baby wrapped in a blanket.

Her two older children had “no clue whatsoever” their dad was home. He planned to surprise them at school Tuesday afternoon.

Brig. Gen. Douglas M. Gabram, 1st Cavalry Division deputy commander for support, quickly welcomed the units home and families rushed out to greet soldiers before hurrying out of the cold.

Contact Madison Lozano​ at or 254-501-7552.

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