JBLM soldiers return to cheers, tears and first birthdays

Soldiers returned home after nine months in Afghanistan

By Gail Wood on October 24, 2013

A smiling Dustin Hancock proudly held his 6-month-old son in his arms for the first time.

And Liz, Hancock's wife, beamed.

"It's been a long time coming," Liz said, holding back her tears. "Having a baby and him not being here to hold him was hard."

Hancock, along with 249 other soldiers, received a hugs-and-kisses welcome home Wednesday at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Several soldiers saw their newly born child for the first time.

Thanks to Skype, Hancock watched his wife give birth to their first child, Logan.

"I was thankful for that," Dustin said. "But it's not the same thing as actually being there. It's great to be home."

After a 9-month deployment to Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom, soldiers from the 864th Engineer Battalion, the 555th Engineer Brigade and the 7th Infantry Division returned to JBLM. About 300 family and friends anxiously waited and then let out a roar of welcome as the soldiers marched in.

With her husband gone, Liz Hancock returned to her home in Texas to have her baby and to be with her family. Both Dustin's and Liz's parents were at the welcome home celebration that was held at the Chemical Battalion Rehearsal Bay room. Liz's youngest brother, influenced by Dustin, is going into the Army.

"Dustin has has been a great example for our son," said Tom, Liz's father. "We're very proud of Dustin. We missed him."  

>>> Dustin Hancock holds his newborn son Logan. His wife, Liz, stands by him.

Holly Steen had her third child while her husband, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Steen, was deployed for nine months. It was Jeremiah's second deployment.

"We're very excited to have him home," Holly said. "We missed him."

To get through the challenge of her husband being away, Holly kept busy with Family Readiness Group.

"That helped," Holly said. "It gave me something to do."

It was a special day for Jaime Kaufman for two reasons. Her husband was coming home after a nine-month deployment and it was the first birthday of their daughter, Kennedy. Kennedy was 3-months old when her dad left.

"It was a challenge," Jaime said.

For help, Jaime, who works full time, had her 18-year-old niece, Shayne, who graduated from high school in May, fly up from Florida and stay with her. Jaime's mother, Mary, flew up from Clarksville, Tenn., Saturday to take part in the welcome home celebration.

"I can't even express what this means," Jaime said about her husband's return. "It's the best birthday gift my daughter can get."

Jaime then added with a giggle, "That's all she's getting. I'm just kidding."

Jaime was living in Kentucky when her husband was deployed, which meant she had to move their belongings across the country by herself when they were reassigned to JBLM. For help, Jaime left Kennedy at her mom's home in Tennessee.

"We're very excited," Mary said. "Everyone is going to be together. I said I wasn't going to cry, but I think I lost that bet."       

Meghan Barratt anxiously held her 8-month-old daughter Jayci as they waited for their husband/father to arrive. Jonathan Barratt hadn't ever held their new child.

"It's going to be the second best moment of her life," Meghan said. "It's really exciting."

Meghan flew home to Illinois to be with her parents when she gave birth to her first child.

"This is an exciting day," Meghan said.

Timothy Klesick had a special gift waiting for him when he arrived after his nine-month deployment - his wife Kazhe and 6-month-old son Camden. Camden is the Klesick's third child.

"I'm so happy to have him home," Kazhe said. "This is his first deployment. We're excited."