By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD - Memorial Day held extra meaning this year for Bedrie Browning.
"It's so fitting and I'm so proud," she said Monday evening at Cooper Field while waiting for her daughter, Spc. Karah Vanmetre, to return from a year in Afghanistan. "It really puts things into perspective, all the sleepless nights, holding my breath and waiting for the phone to ring or the next email."
While in Afghanistan with the 1st Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Vanmetre earned numerous accolades for her work as a fuel specialist. Overall, the brigade pumped 18 million gallons of fuel to support 60,000 combat flight hours.
"The mission was always going," said
Vanmetre, 23, a Tarkington native who was stationed at Camp Sharana in Regional Command-East. "There was always something going on. There was never really time to sit down, and if there was, it was very rare."
Along with Vanmetre, brigade commander Col. John Novalis and Command Sgt. Maj. Glen Vela led 260 soldiers home during the homecoming and uncased the Warrior Brigade's colors to a large, roaring crowd.
Like Browning, Novalis said Memorial Day took on a new dimension, coinciding with his homecoming.
"We didn't plan it, but it kind of makes sense," he said. "It brings full-circle what we do as an Army and as a nation."
For the occasion, Browning and Vanmetre's best friend, McKenna Campbell, and her mother, Linda Campbell, donned red, white and blue "Vanmetre" T-shirts with tiny American flags on the sleeves.
The team theme recalled a major disappointment in Vanmetre's past, and one she's overcome since joining the Army.
Following a softball injury in college that resulted in several ankle and knee surgeries, Vanmetre thought she'd never excel at anything physical again. But joining the military two years ago helped build up her strength again, she said - so much so that she's trying out for the all-Army softball team later this year.
Deploying only strengthened her interest in her budding career, she said. "I liked the experience, being away in another country and seeing how people live. It makes you want to come back and not regret anything."
Although the pace of the deployment was "kinetic," and Afghanistan's high altitudes and terrain were as challenging as any he'd seen in 25 years as an Army aviator, Novalis said his unit was lucky to have suffered no losses during the deployment.
He attributed the success of this mission to the dedication and prudence of his soldiers and their coalition counterparts, including German and Afghan security forces.
Although areas of Afghanistan remain active with insurgent activity, Novalis said the brigade saw progress during its deployment.
"They certainly sensed that we were getting at them," he said.
Whether progress can be sustained following the anticipated drawdown of forces in 2014 will depend on a variety of factors, he said, "but we've laid a good framework."
Contact Colleen Flaherty at email@example.com or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHFortHood.