The first order Army Spc. Austin Fell received Friday when he returned home to Fort Gordon after a nine-month deployment came from a poster board covered in construction paper and pipe cleaners.
“Move or lose it,” read the sign, decorated by Fell’s 3-year-old son, Colton. “I’m here to pick up my daddy.”
When commanders let the crowd loose, Fell and 200 other soldiers from the 67th Expeditionary Signal Battalion rushed to their families.
“Wow, you’re taller,” Fell said as he picked up Colton.
“And potty trained,” wife Krysta said.
“That’s the best part,” the specialist said.
Fell and his fellow soldiers might have missed their child’s first words, a lost tooth or first crawl during their deployment to build Army technical control facilities in eight Middle Eastern countries.
In the next seven to 10 days, battalion soldiers will take part in briefings; undergo post-deployment medical, dental and visual screenings; and complete administrative and financial processing to help them assimilate back into their families and communities.
Like Fell, Army Spc. Ryan Nay returned from his first deployment Friday.
The soldiers agreed the mission abroad was challenging, but said they have a strong team to help them make the transition to home, which Nay said could take some time.
“They have changed a ton,” he said. “We are going to take it easy and enjoy each other’s company this weekend. I have some catching up to do.”
On behalf of the Army and the Augusta community, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey N. Colt, the deputy commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps, thanked each soldier – and especially their families – for their sacrifice.
“Deployments like this are just simply not possible without you,” Colt said to the families. “You are the strength of the soldiers and our soldiers are the strength of our Army.”
Staff Sgt. Jeanette Natta, returned from her third deployment and said her strength is her 9-year-old daughter, Kiara, and 14-month-old son, Kimani.
Natta said she is still looking for her first smile from her son, a term of endearment she hopes to see this weekend, possibly at the park, Kimani’s “fun place.”
“I am going to get into his comfort zone and let him come to me,” Natta said. “Who knows, there may be a little bribe here and there.”