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There's no place like home

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Army's 3rd ESC returns after 15-month deployment

By John Friedlein

By JOHN FRIEDLEIN

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jfriedlein@thenewsenterprise.com

FORT KNOX – After traveling half way around the world, the soldiers were separated from their families by about 30 feet of gym floor.

That final distance collapsed after a few minutes of speeches and ceremony; fathers held daughters and wives reunited with husbands; the U.S. Army’s 3rd Sustainment Command Expeditionary was home.

The unit, which arrived on post Monday in a convoy of buses, had spent the past 15 months in Iraq.

“Fifteen months is a long time,” 1st Lt. Scott Easterling said after greeting his parents. The Tennessee man said he has never attended such a homecoming. “It was kind of emotional, actually.”

Spc. Michael Behlin of South Carolina said he planned to relax with family.

“It’s been a long time coming, but it feels good.,” he said.

The roughly 250-troop unit commanded about 21,000 soldiers whose job it was to made sure coalition forces got what they needed – when they needed it.

For instance, they delivered enough fuel each day to fill the tanks of 14,000 long-haul semis a day – and enough letters to put one in the mail box of every North Carolina resident, according to the Army.

Their job became safer as time wore on. When they arrived in June of ‘08 during their first deployment from Fort Knox, they’d find a roadside bomb – some would detonate – several times a day, said command spokesman Maj. Paul Hayes.

That threat had significantly lessened by the time they left.

“Security really improved a lot while we were there,” Hayes said.

The unit’s job didn’t necessarily become less complicated, though, because shutting down bases means a lot of logistical planning – moving around supplies, for example.

As the unit supported other troops, folks back home supported them.

Kids would decorate care boxes for Cassie Burks’ sister, a captain. These contained a variety of items – from photos to socks, Burks said.

And she, like Army wife Donielle Paul, kept in touch with e-mails and phone calls.

Paul on Monday held a foam poster board welcoming home her husband, whose picture she had printed off a computer and attached to the sign.

She, of course, said she was excited to see him.

Capt. Shari Bowen did not have to wait to see her husband, SFC Randolph Bowen. That’s because they deployed together.

During this homecoming, they reunited with their five kids.

“It feels great,” Shari Bowen said. “Such a relief.”

Relatives had been watching the children, she told a reporter.

Upon hearing that, one of her boys said: “I’m staying with you, mom.”

“I know, now you’re staying with me,” she said.

John Friedlein can be reached at (270) 505-1746.