FORT KNOX, Ky. - The holiday season is a little brighter for a group of Fort Knox soldiers and their families.
About 285 soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, were reunited with their loved ones after a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan during a welcome-home ceremony Dec. 15 at Natcher Physical Fitness Center.
“I don’t know if there’s ever going to be another moment that can replace this,” Vanessa Perez, wife of Spc. Cory Perez, said as she wiped away a tear. “It means even more that it happened right before Christmas.”
The Perezes weren’t the only ones to get an early Christmas present. Soldiers from both the 201st Brigade Support Battalion and Special Troops Battalion welcomed home their commanders, Lt. Col. Scott Shore and Lt. Col. Glenn Bollinger. During the ceremony, both stood by their units’ unfurled colors — the first of the 3rd IBCT’s six battalions to do so.
While the uncased colors signify mission completion for many of the soldiers, the transition from life in Afghanistan to that of a combat veteran back home is just beginning.
After the bright lights dim and the emotional reunions are done, underlying issues — whether financial, emotional or physical — may challenge a soldier.
“Months of separation, living in austere conditions, under increased threat for the soldiers and separation, worrying about their soldier and the independence required to carry on affects each family member differently,” Col. William Ostlund, commander of the 3rd IBCT, said. “There is initial euphoria that the soldier has returned physically healthy and can get back to a ’normal’ life. However, the world did not stand still during the separation and some require assistance locating exactly where they fit and how, and further how to best connect with family and friends.”
To provide soldiers with the assistance and tools needed to reconnect with family and friends, leaders implemented a structured reintegration process every soldier must complete before rejoining their battle buddies in formation.
This process includes medical screenings, financial readiness classes, strength and respect training, as well as time to focus on education and administrative tasks that directly aid efficient and effective transition from combat to garrison activities.
“The aim of reintegration is to ensure a relatively slow pace of military duties for an initial period while educating soldiers and families on the challenges of returning from combat and coping strategies, identifying organizations that offer assistance, and further recognize soldiers and families that would benefit from greater assistance,” Ostlund said.
Helping educate these soldiers and their families is combat veteran and Master Resiliency Trainer, Sgt. 1st Class Cornelius Whitaker.
“When we think of reintegration, we have to think about how to make things better than what they were when we left,” Whitaker said. “Whatever skills you used to get through deployment are the same skills that will help transition at home.”
With the help of the local Fort Knox and surrounding communities, more than 600 “Duke” Brigade soldiers will transition back into a daily routine on post and complete all necessary reintegration training before the holiday break.
“Reintegration is a soldier, unit, family and community affair, and the support we gathered from Families and communities across the country has been unparalleled,” Ostlund said.
The soldiers who returned home before the New Year holiday will get to take 21 days of leave to unwind and spend time with their families — a gift Perez said was “better than anything under their tree.”
The remainder of the 3rd IBCT is scheduled to redeploy next year.
For Photos from the welcome home ceremony please visit: