FORT HOOD — Tony Cespedes only had 48 hours notice of his wife’s return from Afghanistan, but he stood ready to greet her Friday night with a dozen roses.
“It’s been a little tough. I just retired and then she right away got notice to deploy,” he said.
With 16 years of marriage and nine deployments between him and his wife, Master Sgt. Jo Ann Cespedes, this was the first time the retired sergeant major experienced deployment as a civilian spouse.
“She asked me if I could do it, and I said, ‘I have to do it,’” said Tony Cespedes, who also cares for his grandson in San Antonio while his daughter prepares for her own deployment at Fort Bragg, N.C. “It’s in the family. We are in our third generation of service.”
After a 10-minute delay, about 130 soldiers of 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, marched across Cooper Field after midnight to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.” The temperature was below freezing as the “Black Jack” Brigade command team uncased the unit’s colors, signifying the headquarters’ return from a seven-month mission in Afghanistan.
“What we were most impressed with this deployment was the Afghan National Security Forces,” said Col. Robert Whittle, brigade commander. “It’s because of how well-equipped and trained they are that we’ve been able to bring home some of our people sooner.”
More than 3,000 Black Jack soldiers left Fort Hood in July for a nine-month mission, but began to redeploy in November. So far the brigade and three of its battalions returned to Fort Hood. Three more remain spread in the country, finishing the unit’s theater assistance force mission.
“I’m really proud of how well our battalions and companies have done in support of the retrograde of personnel and equipment,” Whittle said. “The whole purpose of the mission was to ensure the conditions are set to bring troops and equipment back.”
In the past three months, 10,000 U.S. service members left Afghanistan, bringing the total number in country to 34,000 at the end of this month, according to the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command.
The past seven months haven’t been without sacrifice. The brigade lost two soldiers downrange — one a lieutenant killed by a roadside bomb.
“Because of the strength of the Fort Hood community and families, soldiers were able to focus on the fight and that’s extremely important,” Whittle said.
The remaining half of the brigade is expected to return in about nine weeks.
“This deployment will be complete when we get everybody back,” Whittle said. “We’re really looking forward to getting the whole family home.”