FORT HOOD — Hillary Ionson found out she was pregnant one day before her husband deployed to Afghanistan.
She said she wasn’t worried though; he’d be back a month before the baby was due. But Hunter Ionson had different plans.
“I know I’m not going to cry; I’m excited and nervous and anxious, but I’m OK,” she said, anticipating the moment her newborn would meet his dad.
Just one day shy of 3 weeks old, Hunter finally met his dad, Sgt. Steven Ionson, who raced across Cooper Field along with 200 other Black Jack soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, during its welcome home and colors-uncasing ceremony Saturday.
Tears streamed down Hillary Ionson’s face as she saw her family together for the first time. She gave birth to Hunter without friends or family around, and she’d been raising their 5-year-old daughter alone. She’d been resilient until now.
“He’s so little,” Steven Ionson said. “I dreamt of this moment and it still hasn’t sunk in that I’m actually here on this field seeing my family, holding my son. This is so cool. I really don’t know what to say.”
Soldiers with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team returned home after a nine-month deployment, where they partnered with Afghan National Security Forces and assisted with the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command as needed.
“Our main mission was securing Bagram Airfield and we gave it 110 percent,” said Lt. Col. Phil Brooks, commander of 2nd Brigade’s 3rd “Red Dragon” Battalion. “I’m proud of our soldiers. All the training at JRTC prepared us well and it’s exactly what we saw there, just on a larger scale.”
Brooks said by partnering with the Afghan chief and supporting Afghan troops, he was able to see just how much they are capable of and what they are able to accomplish.
“The biggest gain is that they’re (skilled) in policing themselves,” said Brooks, scanning the crowd. “This is the fourth time I’ve crossed this field and there’s a lot of emotion here today. It’s a great day for a great ceremony in the Great Place.”
More than 3,000 Black Jack soldiers left Fort Hood in July and began redeploying in November. The brigade and three of its battalions already returned. About 140 troops from the Red Dragon company are scheduled to return within the next 24 hours.
“They’ll be as happy as I am to return home,” Brooks said. “I’m looking forward to spending time with my wife and kids. My daughter swims and my son plays baseball. So I’m excited about attending some athletic games.”