Guard soldiers return home to family

Engineer battalion spent year in Kuwait

Sgt. Jason Stafford saw his 3-week old daughter, Charlee, for the first time Tuesday.

Charlee was born while Stafford, a member of the Louisiana National Guard’s 205th Engineer Battalion, was serving in Kuwait in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Stafford and more than 150 of his fellow soldiers were welcomed home in a ceremony at the Baton Rouge Metro Airport on Tuesday morning.

Stafford held his infant daughter tightly and kissed her on the forehead as family members snapped pictures.

“I’m sad that I missed it (the delivery), but it’s exciting to come home to it,” Stafford said.

The battalion, based in Bogalusa and Hammond, completed a yearlong deployment in Kuwait where soldiers worked on a variety of engineering and construction projects in Kuwait, Afghanistan and Jordan.

The 205th completed its deployment along with the 922nd Engineer Company, of Gonzales, which returned to Louisiana on Monday.

The two units trained together at Fort Bliss, Texas, before deploying overseas. As they returned home, they first flew to Fort Bliss before returning to Baton Rouge.

Now they’re home for the holidays.

“Words can’t really describe it,” Stafford said of being home.

The soldiers greeted their loved ones at a hangar separate from the airport’s main terminals.

The atmosphere was electric as family and friends waited for the battalion to arrive. About half the crowd carried some kind of “Welcome Home” banner. Almost everyone held an American flag.

The hangar’s doors opened about 15 minutes before the plane landed. People piled outside, lining up behind ropes and snapping pictures of every plane that landed — just in case it was the right one.

Tangela Jochum, of LaPlace, waited patiently behind the rope to see her son, Pfc. Wesley Triche, face to face for the first time in a year. They’ve only been able to communicate via Facebook, Skype, and the occasional phone call.

It was Triche’s first overseas tour, Jochum said.

“I told him it’s either going to break you or it’s going to make you,” Jochum said. “It definitely made him.”

Jochum donned a red T-shirt saying, “I support the FSC 205th Outlaws Operation Enduring Freedom 2013.” Other family members held a sign that said, “We love you, welcome home Wesley Triche.”

The crowd cheered as the plane landed and inched toward the hanger.

The airplane’s doors finally opened, leading to the crowd cheering even louder.

Jochum and her family had to wait a little bit longer until Triche finally got off the plane.

When she spotted him, Jochum gave her son a big hug and several kisses on the cheek.

“It wasn’t that bad,” Triche joked as his mother hugged him.

Triche said hello to his adopted brother, 21-month-old Wyatt Michael. He picked him up and spun him around.

“It’s a rush,” Triche said of returning home. “One of the biggest rushes anyone would ever feel.”

The 205th battalion completed 250 construction or engineering projects in Kuwait, Afghanistan and Jordan, said Lt. Col. James Scott Slaven, the battalion’s commander.

The battalion also dealt with a record flood in Kuwait, Slaven said. A month ago, the country received about 4 inches of rain in a roughly three-hour period, which caused the unit’s base, Camp Arifjan, to flood.

“Being that we’re experienced in emergency operations and dealing with floods, if you will, our guys just automatically were able to step up and start helping the base and prevent any further damage,” Slaven said.

Slaven said it felt surreal to be home. He said the soldiers were cheering when the plane took off from Fort Bliss but became quiet on the hour-and-a-half trip to Baton Rouge. Once the plane touched ground, though, everybody was cheering again.

“It’s a beautiful day,” Slaven said. “Couldn’t be any better.”

Col. Rodney Painting, commander of the 225th Engineer Brigade, which oversees the 205th Battalion and 922nd Company, said it was wonderful to see the units return in time for Christmas.

“I’ve watched a lot of them grow up in the National Guard,” Painting said. “To see them get off the plane and greet their family members, it’s overwhelming.”