On Dec. 18, with my husband Edward (an Iraq War veteran, himself), I watched the U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III approach against a brilliant sunset backdrop. Three days earlier, the war in Iraq had been officially declared over by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta during a ceremony in Baghdad.
After landing, the military personnel aboard raised the American and Hawaiian flags before taxiing to the flight line, where military leadership stood waiting to welcome soldiers of the 25th Infantry Division home after their year-long deployment. Bernard Champoux, 25th Infantry Division Commander Major General, was the first off the plane, saluting as he was greeted with a hug from Lieutenant General Frank Wiercinski, Commanding General of the U.S. Army Pacific. Maj. Gen. Champoux then received a maile lei from Major General Darryll Wong, before leading soldiers down the line of military and civilian greeters.
Once the soldiers were aboard their buses, we all headed up to Wheeler Army Air Field, where families were anxiously awaiting their loved ones. While the soldiers checked in and turned in their weapons in a separate room, children scampered gleefully, waving tiny American flags as the waiting spouses looked on. They sat facing a large wall covered in posters welcoming the soldiers home, and many of the children wore shirts saying, “Welcome home, Daddy” or other similar sentiments. Every once in a while, Edward would wander off to say hi to friends he had met during his years in the Army, many of whom had just returned themselves. Once the announcement was made that the ceremony was about to start, everyone cheered, and the returning soldiers marched into the hangar in formation while the band played.
During the ceremony, prayers were said and the Army song was sung. Lt. Gen. Wiercinski said a few brief words, then released the soldiers to their families. A year-long deployment is a difficult experience that I’ve experienced personally, and I was caught up in the wave of emotion as husbands, wives, and children were all reunited around me. I think we can all be grateful that all these families will have their soldiers home for the holidays, unlike so many who have lost loved ones to Iraq.
Thank you to all who serve and have served, and welcome home from Iraq… for the last time!
These photos were taken by Dallas Nagata White and Edward White upon invitation by the Defense Media Activity Hawaii News Bureau. Credited captions are by DMA HINB.