By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD - Blame it on Eyjafjallajökull.
A volcano under the Icelandic glacier erupted April 14, delaying travel for millions, including more than 1,000 soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division's 1st Air Cavalry Brigade.
Two flights scheduled to arrive at Fort Hood's Robert Gray Army Airfield late Friday/early Saturday finally touched down Monday afternoon. Soldiers applauded when the plane landed, said Col. Douglas Gabram, the brigade's commander. He and more than 400 soldiers were welcomed during two ceremonies late Monday morning.
Flights carrying Fort Hood soldiers typically stop in Germany or Iceland after departing the Middle East. Volcanic ash drifted over much of northern Europe and started spreading west, halting air travel over Europe.
The 1st Air Cavalry soldiers were not stranded in Germany or Iceland, said Master Sgt. Guadalupe Stratman, a division spokeswoman. Instead, they waited in Kuwait or Al Asad Airbase in Iraq until officials got the go ahead from European airports.
Gabram said the soldiers "took it well" and their expectations were realistic, though everyone was fired up to return home.
Battalion family readiness officials began contacting families and updating websites when news of the delays came, said Jenny Pieper O'Rourke, a brigade family readiness support assistant. They also put out the word via Facebook and Twitter.
Family members typically get a call 72 hours before their soldiers are set to arrive at the division's Cooper Field. They might not have received that notification with these flights, O'Rourke said, but loved ones were contacted once the planes took off from the Middle East.
Katy Zeigler was at Cooper Field Monday to welcome her fiance, Spc. Doyce Leatherwood, a Black Hawk mechanic. The two grew up together in Plainview, and he proposed while on leave in December.
Zeigler didn't know about the volcano eruption until she learned of Leatherwood's delayed arrival. It was hard because she anticipated his arrival and then had to wait even longer, she said.
"You try to be patient, but you can't," she added.
But the extra days just made Zeigler more excited to see her fiance, she said.
The volcano continues to release ash and it is still affecting the brigade's return home, according to information from the division.
"The soldiers are safe and will continue in their travels in a safe manner," read a statement released Friday.
Loved ones are encouraged to check for udpated ceremony times on the 1st Cavalry's website, http://www.hood.army.mil/1stcavdiv/redeployment/index.htm, Facebook and Twitter.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7547. Follow her on Twitter at KDHmilitary. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
More 1st Cav flights inbound
Soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division's 1st Air Cavalry Brigade are set to return to Fort Hood from Iraq at 2:05 a.m. and 5:15 a.m. Friday and 8 a.m. Saturday.
Division officials invite soldiers' families and the public to welcome the troops at Cooper Field in front of 1st Cavalry headquarters an hour before scheduled ceremony times.
Please note that all ceremony times are still fluctuating due to the volcanic activity in Iceland, so check the 1st Cavalry's schedule at www.hood.army.mil/1stcavdiv/redeployment/index.htm or call (254) 618-7598 or (254) 286-5331.
The welcomes are also broadcast live on the division's website for those unable to attend the ceremonies.