FORT RILEY — It was all smiles Wednesday morning inside one of the hangers on Marshall Army Airfield.
Family and friends of more than 300 Fort Riley soldiers welcomed back their loved ones, who returned from Afghanistan as part of a regular rotation of forces in support of Operation Resolute Support and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.
They had been overseas since August of last year.
The soldiers who were reunited with loved ones Wednesday morning were the first group of more than 800 who were part of those operations. Two more ceremonies for the rest of 1st Combat Aviation Brigade troops were scheduled throughout the day.
“I am so elated and excited,” Billie Jean Rodriguez said after hugging her husband, Armando. “My husband has just got back from his 20th deployment, and we’re hoping it’s the last.”
It was the second such ceremony for Jessica Bartlett of Manhattan, who is nine months pregnant with her second child.
“Just ecstatic,” she said. “I can’t believe he’s here in the flesh. It’s just indescribable, to have him home.”
Her husband, Capt. Lawson Bartlett, who was deployed when their first child was born, felt relieved to be back.
“Very happy to home,” he said. “Second baby coming soon, so it’s great to be home. Great to see the birth of our second kid, so great to be home.”
Soldiers who didn’t have families or significant others waiting for them weren’t forgotten. Rodriquez brought gift bags for those troops.
“My husband has went to corral these gentlemen so we can welcome them home, give them a hug and give them a little welcome home goodie bag,” she said. “I think it’s important just because so many of the deployments we’ve been through, and seeing all of the loved ones here hugging and kissing and getting pictures — it’s just an excited day.
“I felt like we wanted to do something for these guys that maybe don’t have that. We just wanted to put something together to let them know we appreciate them.”