FORT HOOD — About 80 members of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment “Brave Rifles” were welcomed home at Cooper Field on Wednesday after returning from a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan.

The regiment deployed about 1,200 soldiers in late May and early June in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel to train, advise and assist Afghanistan National Army forces in taking control of their nation. An additional 500 soldiers deployed in July.

The unit is passing control of the mission to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, from Fort Bliss.

About 500 of the deployed soldiers returned early in December in time for the Christmas holidays. The remaining soldiers are expected to return over the next two weeks.

“To our Brave Rifles troopers, welcome home — we are incredibly proud of you,” said Col. Robert Whittle, 1st Cavalry Division home station commander. “To the families, thank you — you make us ‘Cav Strong.’ To all, be safe and take care of each other. We need you.”

With those short words, the returning soldiers were released to their families.

Spc. Benjamin Hopkins met his wife, Lisa, and his 16-month-old daughter, Graceland, on the field. The best part, however, was holding his 6-week-old son, Grayson, for the first time.

“This is awesome — so nice and very surreal,” Hopkins said. “I’m looking forward to daddy duties!”

The soldier pointed to his young daughter and added, “This one was his size when I left!”

Hopkins’ wife Lisa said she was ready to have her husband home.

“I am more than grateful and happy that he’s back,” she said. “We’ve been very fortunate to have family help us and be supportive here with everything going on.” | 254-501-7554

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