Valentine’s Day had a little extra meaning for more than 900 people Friday who welcomed home local soldiers from a 10-month deployment in Afghanistan.
The 437th Military Police Battalion HHD detachment of Middletown arrived Friday morning at Dayton International Airport after a Southwest Airlines jet was made available for the charter flight from a base in Mississippi. There were concerns that the unit may have been delayed because of cancelled flights in the southern United States due to winter storms.
The unit was bused to Franklin High School to reunite with their families and honored with a “Welcome Home” ceremony by an Ohio assistant adjutant general and representatives from Ohio’s two senators and two congressmen.
When the three buses arrived at the school with their families waiting in the chilly weather, the first one off the bus was Sgt. 1st Class Brett Kraft of Madison Twp. in Butler County. As Kraft stepped off the bus, his wife, Tracy, rushed to him. His daughter was also there waiting to see him.
“We had it all planned (to rush to him),” she said. “It’s amazing.”
“This nine-month deployment seemed a lot longer than the 20-month deployment,” Brett Kraft said.
After two deployments, Brett Kraft said he hoped they would not have another.
“I just want to enjoy being a father and a husband,” he said.
During the 30-minute ceremony, Tracy Kraft was also recognized for her work as the unit’s family readiness group leader by Lt. Col. Susan Kusan, the unit’s commanding officer.
Kusan said that Tracy Kraft’s group provided multiple care packages for the unit, which the troops enjoyed and appreciated.
After getting off the bus, another soldier, Pfc. Kody Adkins was spending a few moments holding his three-year-old daughter, Rory.
“This is what I was looking forward to the most, right here,” he said.
This was Adkins’ first deployment and he said that he missed his family while he was away.
“I was excited to see him,” Rory said.
Adkins said Rory was told they were going to a dance function and was surprised as her daddy got off the bus.
Before the buses arrived, Mary Beth Wyss of Miamisburg and other family members, braved the cold and held up signs to welcome her son, Spc. Adam Wyss, back home.
Wyss said the cold temperatures didn’t bother her too much.
“I don’t really care as long as my boy comes home,” she said. “I’d be here even if there was a monsoon.”
Adam Wyss said it’s “amazing” to be home.
“It’s great to be home with my family and to be able to relax at home with them,” he said.
As he came off of his bus, Wyss said his family members “were in the front of the crowd. It wasn’t hard not to miss them.”
He said he missed wearing sweatpants and eating at Skyline Chili, his favorite restaurant.
After the Wyss family returned home, they exchanged gifts as they celebrated a delayed Christmas.
“They kept the tree and the lights up for me so we could do Christmas when I got back,” he said.
As for his first deployment, Wyss said, “it was fun but I’m glad to be home.”
Wyss is actually a member of Youngstown-based 838th Military Police Battalion, which was also overseas with the 437th. He managed to fly back with the 437th as they are based closer to home. Wyss is a student at Youngstown State University and a 2011 graduate of Miamisburg High School.
Sgt. Ryan Langford, like a number of his fellow soldiers, brought roses for their spouses or significant others.
“I’m just glad to be here,” said Langford, of Cincinnati. Being mindful that Friday was Valentine’s Day, he gave his wife Jacqueline a bouquet of roses, adding that “the flowers made it through the airport.”
Langford, who was on his first deployment, held his son, Elijah, as his wife, Jacqueline, watched holding her bouquet.
“He’s a sweetie,” she said. “It’s amazing (that her husband is back). I’m so happy because we’ve been waiting too long.”
“I missed my family,” Langford said. “I want to spend time with them and watch my little boy grow up.”
The 437th is composed of 445 soldiers from Ohio, Georgia and Texas and is headquartered in Columbus. The unit provided critical security and force protection at 10 different outstations in Afghanistan. Kusan said the unit has been recommended for a Meritorious Unit Commendation for their just completed deployment.
Brig. Gen. John Harris, assistant Ohio adjutant general for Army, praised the unit for their service and reminded them that they did their part. After the ceremonies, Harris said the unit did not have any major combat-related injuries or fatalities.
“That’s a significant accomplishment,” Harris said.
Representatives from Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown as well as Reps. John Boehner and Mike Turner welcomed the troops back and passed along the greetings.
As the buses wound through Franklin with an escort from Franklin and Middletown police and the Ohio Highway Patrol, staff members from the Franklin Municipal Court and City Building stood along the street waving to the troops. As the troops passed Franklin Junior High School, the entire student body also stood along the street waving American flags. Upon arrival, the buses passed under a large American flag that was supported by a pair of fire trucks.
“It’s great to be back here,” Kusan said. “Ten months ago, we were in this room. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day.”