WEST FORT HOOD — Families gathered Monday at a West Fort Hood Physical Fitness Center to welcome home the 937th Route Clearance Company, 8th Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade, following a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan.
Parents and children lined the gym walls applauding and whistling as the 90 soldiers marched in. Following an invocation and brief remarks by the battalion commander, they were free to greet loved ones.
“It’s been rough,” family readiness group leader Tina Gillespie said of the deployment. “Sixteen years, five deployments, and this is the longest we’ve been apart.”
Gillespie’s role is to serve as a liaison between the soldiers and their families left behind.
She and her three children were excited to welcome their soldier home. Once he walked through the doors, it felt like a weight had been lifted, Gillespie said.
Spouse Tracy Dukes felt anxious as she stood in the gym surrounded by friends before the troops arrived. She had a laser tag surprise planned for her three sons later that night.
Once her husband, Spc. Joshua Dukes, was back in her arms, her anxiety dissipated.
“It doesn’t feel real,” she said.
It was the couple’s second deployment.
“It’s a long time to be away from family,” said Joshua Dukes, who was almost speechless after greeting his wife.
Capt. Jerome Woodlin, the company commander, described their stint in Afghanistan as an awesome experience.
“I’m happy to be back and to have all my soldiers back,” he said. “Mission complete.”
The company’s role required its soldiers locate explosive devices, and the battalion commander was pleased with their results.
“They’ve done an outstanding job,” Lt. Col. Kenneth Reed said.
For Chelsea Stokes, the deployment was a challenge. She worked and raised her 2-year-old son while her husband was gone.
“But it’s all worth it in this moment,” she said, as her husband held their son in his arms for the first time in nine months. “He’s daddy’s twin.”