WEST FORT HOOD — Families awoke well before dawn Thursday morning to greet about 100 soldiers of III Corps and 3rd Cavalry Regiment returning from Afghanistan.
The excitement surrounding the Tomaka family was palpable.
Jill Tomaka surprised her two daughters Thursday morning with the news that their dad, Lt. Col. Paul Tomaka with III Corps, was returning that day. They expected his deployment to last another two months.
Hailey Tomaka, 8, held a sign reading “Next mission — retirement. No more deployments!” and wore a T-shirt emblazoned with an image of her dad.
Danielle Tomaka missed her dad at her high school graduation last spring. She is preparing to attend college soon, after spending the last six months helping her family cope with the deployment.
Col. James Baker, the III Corps Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion commander, praised the returning troops for their “incredible job. We had a lot of young soldiers who had never deployed before. They fell right in ... and excelled.”
The unit’s mission was to serve as the nucleus for the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, providing operational training to Afghan armed forces and police, Baker said.
“We successfully transitioned the need for operations from our troops to Afghan forces,” Baker said.
The deployment wasn’t always easy for Rebecca Reece and her 15-month-old son, Boe, who waited eagerly for the return of Staff Sgt. Christopher Reece, a trooper with 3rd Cavalry Regiment.
“It was interesting,” she said, of juggling motherhood on her own.
It was the couple’s second deployment since relocating to Fort Hood from England three years ago.
“He missed his first steps, rolling over, almost everything,” Reece said, “but I videotaped it all and sent it to him.”
She is looking forward to visiting relatives in Arizona and a naming ceremony for Boe in March.
The Tomaka family has more than their patriarch’s return to look be thankful for — the family’s second deployment will be their last as their soldier prepares to retire. Hailey hopes a new puppy is in the cards in the coming days.