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Vanguard Brigade soldiers return home
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Sgt. 1st Class Eric Chini is greeted by his daughter, Alicia, 8, his son, Tavion, 12, and his wife, Patrice, during a Monday homecoming ceremony on Fort Stewarts Cottrell Field. - photo by Randy C.Murray

The 3rd Infantry Division’s 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team is getting home from Afghanistan just in time for Thanksgiving.
The main body of the Vanguard Brigade started redeploying Friday and will continue through Monday, Fort Stewart Public Affairs officer Kevin Larson said. Now only small support detachments are deployed, he said.
Nearly 500 4th IBCT soldiers, most with the 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, returned home Monday and Tuesday. On Tuesday, the bleachers at Cottrell Field were filled and still families filled a roped-off area in front of the bleachers.
Despite the crowd, 4-year-olds Maliya Connor and Ian Fraley chased each other around their moms. Wrapped in a blanket to keep warm, Layla Connor waited with Nakayla Spencer, 14, for her husband Pfc. Marque Connor. Jessica Fraley and Elijah Heath, 10, waited for her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Donald Fraley. Both soldiers are assigned to the 3/15th Infantry Regiment.
Sandra Hayes held a large poster welcoming her son-in-law, 1st Sgt. Lee Thompson, also with the 3/15th. Her grandson, Christian Thompson, 8, and Thompson’s wife, Heather, stood close by their daughter, Aubrey, 18.
They held a large poster that read: “256 days apart; 500+ emails sent; Having him home — Priceless.”
Two-year-old Colt Guree sat quietly in his stroller with a tiny American flag in his hand. Above him was a poster with a picture of his dad, 1st Lt. Darren Guree, and the words, “My hero.” Guree’s wife Stephanie stood next to Colt, cradling their 12-month-old, Everett.
“It’s a relief to have him home and safe,” she said, before she was cut off by the roaring crowd.
The soldiers had begun marching onto Cottrell Field, accompanied by music by the 3rd ID band.
The formation reported to Maj. Gen. Mike Murray, commander of the 3rd ID and Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield. The commander and command sergeant major of the 703rd Brigade Support Battalion uncased their unit’s colors, signifying their unit was home.
Murray’s remarks were brief. He welcomed the soldiers home then told them to join their families. Hundreds of family members, mostly women and children, poured onto the field, some screaming, “I see him. I see him.”
“I thought we were going to be separated for a whole year,” said Sgt. 1st Class Tanya Green, who recently redeployed with 3rd ID’s 3rd Sustainment Brigade. “But I got to see him at the six-month mark. He came to my promotion ceremony. We pretty much spent the whole first year of our marriage separated.”
Green’s husband, 1st Sgt. Andre Green, an infantryman, said it felt good to be back home. He surprised his wife by saying he wanted them to spend Thanksgiving together, rather than visit other family.
Lara Tripp said she was glad her husband, Sgt. William Tripp Jr., was able to spend a holiday with their 18-month-old daughter, Jillian.
“She was nine months old when he left,” Lara Tripp said. “He missed her first birthday, her first steps and her first word.”
Tripp’s parents, William Sr. and Kathy Tripp, came from Bluffton, S.C., to welcome their son.
While others watched for the soldiers’ arrival, John Guest took his 20-month-old grandson, Wesley Patrick Guest. Guest said Wesley was ready for his dad, Spc. Casey Guest, to come home.
As families swarmed the formation, Sgt. 1st Class Eric Chini found himself embraced from all sides. He took his daughter, Alicia, 8, in his arms while his son Tavion, 12, hugged his waist and his wife, Patrice, wrapped her arms around all of them.
Wiping a tear away, Chini declined to say how good it felt.

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