Alaska Army Soldiers Return from Afghan Deployment
Families reunited by unexpected homecoming
ANCHORAGE - After more than a year in Afghanistan, the 164th Military Police Company came home Saturday. The unit had spent its tour living out of tents and training Afghan police forces to support independent operations, but even after the long flight back to Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson the journey wasn’t over.
Before reuniting with family and loved ones, the 145 soldiers spent hours turning in guns and other equipment, completing the final phases of their deployment.
For Victoria Meza, the final wait was the hardest. The four-year-old sat in the front row of bleachers in the Buckner Physical Fitness Center gym, swinging her legs and snacking on popcorn with her two sisters. She had been there for nearly three hours, waiting for the soldiers to return and entertaining herself with her siblings and her mother’s cellphone.
Dozens of other families lined the bleachers, holding signs and cameras and talking animatedly amongst themselves. The gym walls were covered in bright, handmade posters, welcoming returning heroes with Sharpie hearts and painted messages. Uniformed servicemen and women filled the balcony above, while groups of children roamed across the floor.
In one corner, a woman led a rambunctious game of Red Light, Green Light, while a little girl in a camouflage skirt practiced her first baby steps across the floor in another.
Families had begun gathering in the gym by 7:30 a.m., waiting for the blue military shuttle buses to pull up outside and release their loved ones. By 11 a.m., the anticipation was tangible.
“I want to go home!” Victoria said. She had been told by her mother they were here to see the soldiers. “Soldiers like daddy,” Myra Meza told her daughters. But she had a secret. Friday, she had learned her husband would return to Anchorage four days earlier than planned. She said she couldn’t wait to see the surprised smiles on her daughter’s faces.
When the blue double-doors at the back of the gym finally opened and the members of the 164th began their serpentine processional into formation, the bleachers erupted into applause. The national anthem and a prayer were followed by a brief speech, and then came the final order: “You’re dismissed!”
The neat rows of 25 dissolved into a sea of people, and wives and children flooded down from their seats to find their husbands and fathers.
Specialist Francisco Raymundo Meza strode through the crowd, a broad smile across his face. “Daddy!” his daughters saw him immediately. After a nearly four-hour wait, the minutes after dismissal passed in a blur of tearful hugs and smiling family photos. Meza knelt on the floor while his three young daughters gathered around him, throwing their arms around his neck.
“It’s probably the best feeling I’ve ever felt in my life,” Meza said. “It was a really, really good feeling.” He said it was well worth the wait.