FORT HOOD — After a 10-month separation, all it took was a stuffed Minnie Mouse toy to break the ice.
The nearly 2-year-old Isabella Pizzi was hesitant as her dad approached, but once Master Sgt. Matthew Pizzi opened his backpack and presented the toy, she realized this was the man she’s seen on her mom’s phone screen.
“She only know him off Skype. She’ll grab the phone and ask, ‘Dada?’,” Samantha Pizzi said.
The master sergeant said he picked up the toy during a layover as he and a dozen other soldiers returned to Fort Hood from a deployment to Afghanistan with the 36th Engineer Brigade. The welcome home ceremony was held in a brigade day room Thursday. Though it was a quiet ceremony, family members were excited to see their soldiers return.
“It’s been craziness,” Samantha Pizzi said. “It’ll be nice to have help with the kids.”
The troopers, from various units across the engineer brigade and Fort Hood, all volunteered to deploy as a security force advise and assist team for the Afghan National Army’s 4th Brigade, 203rd Corps, just south of Kabul.
The team included soldiers with expertise in personnel, logistics, signal, maintenance, intelligence and field artillery, said Maj. Christian Thompson, team executive officer.
The team would divide up and embed with the Afghan brigade at its operation center to provide assistance and secure coalition assets.
“If the Afghan brigade went out, we went with them,” Thompson said. “We pretty much trained them and helped develop a doctrine of systems.”
Matthew Pizzi said this was his first opportunity to deploy in an advisory role, so he chose to go and experience something new.
“It was challenging, and different every day, as far as increasing the Afghan National Army’s capability,” he said. “The goal was to move toward total independence, but we would not let them fail this fighting season.”
The team did a phenomenal job, Thompson said.
“The overall mission was to build their capability and build power so they can sustain themselves into the next fighting season,” he said. “The job was to help build that capability to a certain level, so the next fighting season they can be on their own.”