Returning 21st Soldiers receive huge welcome

Spc. Chris Higginbotham
21st Theater Support Command

***image1***Deafening cheers greeted the returning Soldiers of 21st Theater Support Command’s 512th Maintenance Company Feb. 3 after a 13-month deployment to Iraq.

More than 200 Soldiers were welcomed by family members and friends at the gym on Spinelli Barracks in Mannheim. The ceremony was scheduled to start at 8 a.m., when the buses were supposed to arrive, but a flight delay, a customs check and equipment turn-in process pushed the return back until the afternoon.

“I don’t even know what I’m feeling now,” said Olivia Branch, wife of Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Branch. “I haven’t eaten or slept in two weeks. I just can’t wait to see him.”

The Soldiers of 512th were stationed at Logistical Support Area Anaconda in Balad, where they provided maintenance support for units running convoys in the area. They also stepped up in convoy operations, running convoys from Anaconda to Forward Operating Base Spiker in Tikrit twice a week.

“Convoy escort is a non-standard mission for a support maintenance company, but I’d put my guys against any (military police) or infantry escorts out there,” said Capt. Kevin Smith, 512th company commander in an earlier interview in Baghdad. The convoys escorted about 60 trucks per mission without losing any trucks, and – more important – any lives.

The deployed troops weren’t the only ones working hard during the deployment. The company’s Family Readiness Group and Rear Detachment have been supporting them. The FRG organized video teleconferences between Soldiers and their families and kept the troops updated on what was going on at home.

“We had a few wives giving birth while their husbands were gone,” said Tracy Nelms, 512th FRG leader. Mrs. Nelms was the news bearer who told 1st Lt. Adrian Bryan that his wife, Mirjam, had a son.

“When Adrian came up and hugged my neck at the ceremony, that made everything worthwhile. It’s really an amazing feeling when you get to help people,” she said.

The 512th Rear Detachment made sure the returning single Soldiers had something to come home to as well. Every member of the detachment adopted two unmarried Soldiers and prepared surprises for their return.

“We fixed up their rooms, put in carpet, hung up pictures, put food in the fridge, bought comforters to replace the wool blankets on their beds … It was something the Soldiers wanted to do,” said Staff Sgt. Irene Albrow, auto platoon sergeant.