111th Quartermaster Company returns from Afghanistan
By Sarah Steele Wilson, Newsroom Editor
Jan 21, 2013, 12:38
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson
Most children working their way through a pile of candy don’t want to see it dwindle to the last piece. For 1st Lt. Edwards Hurley’s children, daughter Avery and son Caden, the story was different.
“Somebody gave me a great idea to use Skittles,” said their mother, Alison Hurley. “We counted out 180, and then they ate one, so it gave them a visual representation of how many more days ‘till Daddy came home.”
The Hurley’s were just one of many families packed into the field house at Fort Lee on Friday afternoon as the 111th Quartermaster Company returned from a six month deployment in Kuwait and Afghanistan, supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
Most of the returning soldiers, who clutched overjoyed children to their chests while sharing hand shakes and hugs with adult co-workers happy to see them back, agreed on the most challenging aspect of the last six months.
“Being away from my family,” said Sgt. Johnny Shepherd, whose newly arrived nephew didn’t want to let go of his sleeve. “And the job we do, it’s not an easy job, but most of us, we’ve got strong minds, we get through it.”
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson Husband and wives shared hugs and kisses while soldiers shook hands with friends.
The 111th Quartermaster Company is one of the Army’s two active duty mortuary affairs units, which are both based at Fort Lee.
“...These heroes performed the very unfortunate, yet crucially important duty of handling the mortal remains of our fallen warriors,” said Lt. Col. Austin Elliott, commander of the 530th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, which includes the 111th, as he welcomed them back. “They did so with reverence, respect, humility and fierce professionalism.”
The unit left for Afghanistan in July, a month before the United States military death toll in the war in Afghanistan reached 2,000. Over 300 American service members died last year, many of them during the summer months of July, Aug. and Sept., when violence typically flares.
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson 1st Lt. Edward Hurley and his daughter Avery discuss the design of the sign she made welcoming him home from a deployment to Kuwait and Afghantistan.
“The work they do is very private, but every senior leader in the Army and every soldier knows, thanks to these mortuary affairs soldiers, we can honestly say to every family member of every fallen hero that their loved ones are properly cared for on the forward area of the battle field all the way to their final resting place,” Elliott said.
On Friday, the focus was happier. As soon as the ceremony concluded, children raced forward, leaping into their parents arms, while reunited spouses embraced.
Lt. Hurley said that the separation wasn’t just hard on his children, tracking the day of his return with candy. It was also hard for him, even with the advent of technology like Skype.
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson The atmophere in the Fort Lee Field House was jubilant, as soldiers from the 111th Quartermaster Company reunited with their family and friends on Friday afternoon.
“There are some things that have made it easier, since my first deployment, which is the improvement in technology,” he said. “That’s made it easier, however, it doesn’t replace the contact that you have with your kids.”
Unlike Shepherd and Hurley, who were returning from their second and third deployments, Spc. Alfredo Hernandez was back from his first.
He said that leaving his wife Aide, who was pregnant when he departed, and his daughter Isabella was hard.
“It was difficult leaving them behind, but duty calls and we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do,” he said.
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson Spc. Alfredo Hernandez holds his son, Jacob, who was born while he was in Afghanistan, while his wife, Aide, keeps an eye on two-year-old daughter Isabella.
He was looking forward to spending time with his son, Jacob, who was born while he was gone and who he hadn’t seen since he was just three weeks old.
“I’m just glad he’s home.” Aide said, as they joined other reunited families headed home.