Published: August 6, 2014
It was different this time at Fort Carson.
The music, the speech, the prayer and the cheering families were unchanged from the scores of homecomings at the post over 13 years of war. But there was a finality Wednesday.
The commute to war may be over for these soldiers. It's the beginning of the end of America's longest conflict.
"It's the closing of a chapter," said Sgt. Maj. Jerry Dodson after he greeted his wife and two daughters at the end of his ninth wartime deployment.
"It's a relief," said his wife, Kim.
The 150 soldiers who returned to Fort Carson in a 7 a.m. ceremony are from the 4th Brigade Combat Team, the post's last combat brigade in Afghanistan.
The brigade has started to send troops home early as American bases are handed over to Afghan soldiers and the Afghan army takes hold of the security of its nation. The rest of the deployed soldiers will come home in stages over the next four months.
The fighting isn't over, however. Army Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene, 55, was killed in an insider attack Tuesday at a base near Kabul - the highest-ranking American casualty in Iraq or Afghanistan. As the summer fighting season hits full fury in Afghanistan, the Taliban continues to threaten the government.
But for Fort Carson the war, at least for now, is ending.
The post has about 1,800 soldiers left overseas - the smallest number of Fort Carson troops deployed to war since 2004. Their role is to train Afghan troops and pull American gear out of the country.
Capt. Chip Greer, who returned from his second tour in Afghanistan, said the Afghan troops are proving more capable of policing their nation.
"They're good to go," he said.
Greer smiled when he thought about the war's end.
"It's a good feeling," he said.
The commute to war has seen many Fort Carson soldiers deploying every other year. The ceremony to welcome troops home hasn't changed in a decade.
Songs from Lee Greenwood and Toby Keith precede a prayer, the National Anthem, a short speech and the Army song.
That's followed by a storm of hugs and kisses are families reunite.
But the routine is being broken.
"I think it could be the last time they are welcomed back from Afghanistan," said the brigade's Maj. Robert Stanton.
At the homecoming ceremony, one couple got a jump on peacetime life.
Jesse Cunard, a former soldier, proposed to his girlfriend Spc. Bethany Jensen shortly after she marched into the welcoming ceremony.
They've dated for two and a half years. He got a ring to make this homecoming her last.
Cunard has visions of her leaving the Army and joining him in southern Georgia for a future of family, love and peace.
Jensen embraced all that with one word.