As the Battalion Commander, LTC Larry Dugan shouted those triumphant words Saturday afternoon, a roar rose from about 75 soldiers of the 728th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, Pennsylvania National Guard.
Above, Sgt. Douglas Coakley and wife Melissa with their three sons, Ethan, Douglas and Alex. At left, Captain Randall Hall is welcomed home by his two children, Olyvia and Owen.
After a year in Kuwait, the soldiers returned home where friends and family awaited at the Lock Haven Armory to greet them with balloons, banners, and tearful embraces.
"Today concludes our one-year mobilization, only two days shy from the actual day that we began our journey-our adventure that was highlighted with many incredible and staggering accomplishments," Dugan said. "The 728th CSSB did a phenomenal job...(and) played a significant role in the historic periods of the close-out of Iraq and the OND (Operation New Dawn) campaign-the largest logistics operation since World War II and in its initial phases of the Kuwait and Afghanistan drawdown periods."
He noted how military life overseas has changed them, and how they all need the community's help with reintegration here.
"And while the overseas portion of our deployment is now over, our return to our non-deployed lives, our reintegration, is just beginning. We must recognize that this deployment has changed all of us, and that things are different now than when we left last August.
"I ask all of you, both soldiers and families, to please take the time and make the effort to make your reintegration as successful as the deployment was," Dugan said.
After he thanked the soldiers and their families and those who arrived to welcome them home-and a hearty, "God bless America!"-he released them to their loved ones.
With a cheer, the soldiers slapped each other high-five, then scanned the crowd, searching for their families.
Once their eyes locked on one another, many ran toward their families, all their year-long struggles defined by the daily difficulties-waking up without them, surviving the 140 degree heat, fighting dust storms...and back here, paying the bills, shoveling snow, mowing the lawn, eating dinner alone...each separated by an ocean, each fighting their own war-all these struggles dissolved into one momentous, aching, joyous embrace. These indescribable emotions became physical matter, tears tracking cheeks as loneliness turned into completion once again.
Captain Randall Hall, Class 5, Ammunition OIC (Officer in Charge), of Nazareth, knelt to the ground when he reached his young children, pulling them into him as his love for them filled his eyes, stroked their hair. Olyvia, 4, and Owen, 3, seemed to be quickly filling him in on all the things that happened that year, chattering on as if life hadn't skipped a beat.
Hall's wife, Kristy, stood watching her beloved holding their children.
"It's hard at their age to see what a full year is; it's a long time," she said of her children. She was overjoyed to see them once again with their daddy.
It had been a difficult year for her, too, one in which she had to figure the daily tasks of life out without her husband, like mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, all while working a full-time job and mothering two little ones.
"The difficult thing is...constantly having to seek out people to help," she said.
It was also difficult because these soldiers are from all over the state, so it was hard finding a support system, she added. But she and her husband were able to Skype on the weekends, which helped, she said.
Now that he's back home, things...well, they're going to be awesome, she said.
"We are ecstatic!" she exclaimed.
What do the kids think?
"I'm happy!" Olyvia chirped.
But all Owen could do was once again wrap his little arms around his dad.
They're looking forward to doing all sorts of things with him, but Owen can't wait to wrestle his dad.
It's the simple things that hold the most significance.
"We'll do the simple things, like play in the back yard," she said. And next week, they're heading to Disney World for a family vacation and celebration.
For the local soldiers interviewed, the mission was also a family affair.
Sgt. First Class Douglas Coakley of McElhattan served with his brother, Brian Coakley, in Kuwait, and also in Afghanistan in 2004 and 2005. He is thankful to be back with his wife and three sons.
This day means a lot to Douglas Coakley.
"The United States of America is a wonderful, great place to be living in," he said. "You can't take nothing for granted. Overseas, there's nothing; here, you take water for granted. But there, water had to be trucked in for us." It was a hot, arid land where temperatures soared up to 140 degrees, and they had to wear bandannas to protect against dust storms.
He was glad to come home under bright blue skies painted with cottony clouds and temperatures in the 70s. Indeed, it seemed the perfect day for all involved.
But what he missed the most was his family-and his wife's good cooking.
"I'll cook anything and everything for him," now that he's home, his wife Melissa said.
It was hard when he left; his day of departure was on the birthday of his youngest son, Alex, who had turned 5.
But he came home just in time: Alex will turn 6 on Wednesday.
Like others there, he too Skyped with his family, which helped keep them up to date and bridge the emotional gap.
But it didn't take the place of a warm body, smile, and spirit.
"This year-long emotion is wrapped up to this one day, and you look back...and you've watched the days turn into hours, minutes, and then it's back to being normal," Melissa explained.
Their oldest son, Douglas, 10, is looking forward to cutting wood with his dad again; the boys did a lot of cutting while he was gone, Melissa laughed. And all three boys played baseball last summer, which kept them busy, she added.
Alex can't wait to play Pictionary with Dad, and Ethan, 7, wants to play Wii tennis and baseball with him.
The boys start school in a week. "I'm glad to be back before the boys go back to school," Coakley said.
He'll be on transitional leave until Sept. 8, when he'll go back to work at the PA National Guard at the Armory.
First Sgt. of the company Vincent Tarantella of Renovo, served with his son, Vincent, in Kuwait together, although they worked in different areas. Tarantella Jr. was support operations clerk and was responsible for receiving reports from different yards and sections and reporting on it, Tarantella Sr. said. Tarantella Sr. was responsible for the daily health and welfare of all the troops, and ensured their barracks-and themselves-were kept clean, he said.
This was Tarantella Sr.'s third deployment with the National Guard, and seventh overall. He was in the Marine Corps from 1980 to 1992. When he completed that, he joined the National Guard for up to two weeks a year-but then Sept. 11, 2001 came.
"When 9/11 happened, the National Guard became much more important and went to active duty," he explained.
This time, however, he's home for good. At the end of the year, he'll retire after 32 years of service. He'll work at the Bureau of Prisons (the Allenwood Federal Prison) for two more years, until he'll retire from there, too, after 18 years.
He and his wife, Deborah, of 29 years, look forward to life getting back to normal.
But after such a long career in the military, how does one integrate back into civilian life, and family life?
Day by day, was his answer. "You just do it," he said.
He likened his life in the military and his life back home to a baby mobile: Each section that balances out the mobile is each family member, he said, and when he left for the military, it left his family mobile unbalanced; however, over the course of time, they find a way to balance it in his absence. Simultaneously, he creates his own separate mobile in the Army with his fellow soldiers, and his life also find equilibrium separate from his family, he said.
Now, the necessary challenge will be to integrate their two mobiles into one again, and find balance with each other, he said. It's essentially integrating two worlds, two lives, back into one.
They'll do this by simply living life together, and the little, everyday tasks. "They're my 'Honey Do' lists," he laughed. They'll work on the family business together they started in their home in 2009: Tarantella Sudsy Pup, Pet Grooming & Supplies. They bought a retail space for it prior to his departure last year, so it's been a busy year for Deborah.
"Today is the end of a long year," she said. "I worked six days a week; it kept time ticking by."
What's he looking forward to that night? "I'll probably end up sleeping!" he laughed; he was up since 2 a.m.
Then, they'll "help each other, eat together," he said. "Just pick up, get back to normal. Reintegrate back into the family." He'll also get back involved with his VFW, Sons of Italy, and Marine Corps League.
Cpl. Bill Reynolds of Lock Haven was the Battalion Commander's driver, and was in the Color Guard, so he was responsible for carrying and holding the colors (flag) as it was furled and unfurled. He explained that the streamers on the Battalion's flag symbolized each campaign the 728th was in, its history.
"It's cased (covered) when we leave and uncased when we go overseas, and take over our mission; when we get back, it's uncased again," he explained.
Their flag had been red when it was a maintenance battalion; now it's a yellow buff because it's a multi-functional logistics battalion.
Reynolds, who's been in the service for 3 1/2 years, followed in the footsteps of his dad, retired LTC Bill Reynolds, who was in the service 28 years, and said he grew up knowing many people in the military. It was almost a military family for him, he said. He plans on serving in the military until retirement, too. After his dad retired, "It was tough not having Dad with me," he said.
"It feels really good to be home again," he said.
This was LTC Dugan's third deployment overall; he'd been in Desert Storm, and was with the 213th Area Support Group in 2007 and 2008 in Iraq at the height of the surge.
He explained the logistics of this mission.
They left Lock Haven Aug. 20, 2011, and after a series of transfers, arrived in Kuwait on Oct. 2. They were headquartered in Arifjan, with satellite soldiers in five different bases in Kuwait. They were originally supposed to go to Iraq, but when President Obama declared the drawdown of troops Oct. 21, 2011, their destination changed to Kuwait, and their mission began Nov. 15, 2011. It was to provide command and control and sustainment logistics operations in Kuwait, Qatar, Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan in support of Operation New Dawn and Operation Enduring Freedom.
Dugan said it went from three units with less than 300 personnel to over 10 units with over 600 personnel. They managed major government contracts valued at $107 million; the largest retail ammunition supply point in the world; the strategic Army Central Command's (ARCENT) water craft operations; and over 1,000 civilian contractors.
"We went from being the smallest Battalion in the Brigade to the largest Battalion in just four months," he said. "It was a big mission; it kept changing."
Tarantella also called it a "dynamic mission."
"It was like a play: Right before you go on (stage), they change the lines," Tarantella said. Due to the change in mission/destination, they had to quickly train for different job skills. "Someone who was going to be a truck driver then had to (work with contractors)."
The climate conditions also made difficult.
"You couldn't breathe, it was ungodly hot, and you were sticky, and the dust storms would coat us with dirt. There was no living grass, no trees," Tarantella said.
Now, they're back in the land of the living.
Tonight, they will sleep in their own beds.
Tomorrow, they'll wake up, for what will seem like the very first time, with their loved ones.