'It felt like forever': Hundreds more Fort Bragg soldiers return from deployment

Samantha Kummerer Image
Wednesday, July 6, 2022
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Relief and happiness were painted on the faces of the families of more than 200 soldiers who returned to Fort Bragg on Wednesday afternoon.

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (WTVD) -- Relief and happiness were painted on the faces of the families of more than 200 soldiers who returned to Fort Bragg on Wednesday afternoon.

"It's good to be back. A long time away; a long five months," described returning soldier James King. "Happy to be back with the family and catch up on the time that I missed."

The homecoming reunited families after five months of deployment.

Around 5,000 soldiers and paratroopers from XVIII Airborne Corps and the 82nd Airborne Div. deployed to Germany and Poland to assist the United States' efforts in helping deter Russian aggression along the Ukraine border.

"It was kind of one of those things where you know it's coming and it's like, ok here we go," said Ashley Bartlett describing the moment her husband found out he was being deployed for the first time.

Within weeks of their departure, Russia launched a full-scale invasion, in which tens of thousands of people have been killed, and millions displaced.

"It was really hard, especially when they first got out there and everything started happening and the news was blowing up about Russia and we had no idea where they were, what they were doing," remembered Amelia Coker who welcomed home her boyfriend.

Wednesday afternoon's homecoming marked the sixth return of soldiers in the last two weeks.

Around 1,500 soldiers have already returned to North Carolina and 400 more are expected in the next 24 hours.

"I've missed them. I've missed this so much. It felt like forever. They definitely got bigger," said Christopher Lockett, a Ft. Bragg soldier who reunited with his wife and twin four-year-olds.

Many of the soldiers left not knowing how long they would be away, and for many first-timers, even five months felt like forever.

"Oh the longest," described Debra Grove, wife of an Ft. Bragg soldier. "The longest, it felt like living in the Twilight Zone, just limbo."

This was her husband's, Nathan Grove, first deployment.

"That plane ride was surreal because you kept feeling like you were going somewhere different and now we're back home," he said describing the return flight.

Three hundred and fifty more soldiers will land at Fort Bragg Wednesday night at 10 p.m.