Wednesday was a happy occasion for many local families of soldiers from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.
Three homecoming ceremonies were held throughout the day, with more than 700 soldiers returning home from a 15-month deployment in Al Anbar, Iraq.
The first ceremony happened around 10 a.m., when 300 soldiers marched onto Cottrell Field in Fort Stewart, to the happy shouts and applause from nearly 1,000 friends and family members in the stands.
Col. Todd Buchs, Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield garrison commander, said the 1st BCT soldiers did a great job and he thanked them for their services in Iraq in his welcoming speech. Buchs also thanked families for their support.
"Because of them, you were able to exceed all expectations," he said. "Raiders, you were the first Soldiers of the division to deploy in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom Five. You were the first to put boots on the ground for 15 months. You truly have every right to be proud of what you have done for the people of Iraq and the United States."
Col John Charlton, the 1st BCT commander, returned home Tuesday. When the brigade first deployed to Al Anbar, he said there were 30 to 35 attacks per day. Now, Charlton said the province is a more peaceful place.
"It was tremendously violent," Charlton said. "The city was totally destroyed. If you moved, you became a target. Now, you can walk around freely in Ramadi."
After Buchs welcomed the soldiers’ homecoming, the National Anthem was played and everyone sang the Marne and Army songs.
Then – chaos – as the crowd of family members and friends rushed out of the parade field’s reviewing stands and across the field to greet their soldiers.
Later in the day, a second homecoming ceremony was held. Three-hundred soldiers returned from the 5th Squadron, 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment, greeted by almost 1,000 friends and family members. In the early hours of Thursday, around 1 a.m., another 130 soldiers arrived from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, greeted by about 700 friends and family members.
Kevin Larson, chief of public communications at Fort Stewart, said most of the soldiers who have recently returned will be home for a year, or possibly longer.
There were two additional ceremonies scheduled for Friday evening. For more information about welcome home ceremony times and dates, visit http://www.stewart.army.mil/flighttrack/ for up-to-date scheduling.
To date, Larson said about 2,730 1st BCT Soldiers have redeployed.