Guam National Guard Soldiers Return From Afghanistan

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280 welcomed back after Operation Enduring Freedom deployment

By Amanda Francel Blas

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Jan. 6, 2014) – While the rest of the island was sound asleep late Saturday night, families and friends of 280 soldiers waited anxiously to welcome home the first wave of 1-294th Infantry Regiment soldiers from their Afghanistan deployment.

The soldiers were among the 600 sent in March 2013 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, representing the island's largest deployment of troops.

Gathering at the Guam International Airport Authority with signs in their hands and smiles on their faces, thousands watched the night sky for the twinkle of an airplane's lights as they looked forward to reuniting with their heroes in combat boots.

"I'm shaking right now," Taeler Doyle, 12, said.

Holding a sign that read, "Who is back? That's right, my daddy. Sgt. Doyle," Doyle's eyes lit up as speakers loudly announced the soldiers' plane was making its last turn above Agat.

"I'm going to tell him that I love him, and I really missed him and give him a big hug," Doyle said with a huge smile on her face.

As the Omni Air International aircraft moved closer, family and friends began to cheer with excitement. Touching down a little after midnight, the plane was greeted with a water cannon salute and the bright lights and sounds of sirens.

When the soldiers began stepping off the plane and moved to their loved ones, the cheers got even louder.

New dads

For Natasha Cruz, the return of her husband, Spc. Christian Cruz, wasn't just a reunion for the couple, who was celebrating their first anniversary that day. Born two days after Spc. Cruz left for deployment, it was the first time he and his son Noah would meet.

"He doesn't know how it is to be a parent yet, so it's going to be really nice," Natasha Cruz said. "It's a blessing that he's coming home safe."

Natasha Cruz handed Spc. Cruz his son Noah, who stared in awe at the soldier who held him.

"It's not through a computer screen anymore, baby. He's really here," Natasha Cruz whispered to Noah, who was on Skype with his dad every day until they met.

For Spc. Cruz, being home with his family was a welcomed change.

"Going from guns to holding my baby, it's hard to grasp," Spc. Cruz said. " I knew I was going to be a dad, but it's not really what I expected. I'm speechless. There's no words, honestly."

Spc. Richard Smith also met his son, 8-month-old King, for the first time. His wife, Christle Smith, was excited to have her family reunited.

"It feels really good. It's been hard and lonely," said Christle Smith.

Holding his son in his arms, Spc. Smith said he was nervous to meet King for the first time.

"I wasn't sure how he'd react," he said. "It was real nervewracking."

Spc. Smith said he looks forward to spending time with his family and having the small barbecues they've been waiting for.

"The first thing I thought when I saw them? It's good to be home. It's really overwhelming," he said. "I guess you can say (I'm looking forward to) rekindling the flame. It's overwhelming."

While some families celebrated the completion of their soldiers' first deployment, Rebecca DeGuzman welcomed her son, Spc. Paul Del Rosario, home from his fifth deployment.

"I'm really very happy he's home. I always think of him and sometimes I couldn't sleep," DeGuzman said. "I'm holding my tears because he's a really good son. He takes care of us."

This was the first time Del Rosario's mother stood beside other loved ones waiting for their soldier to come home, with Del Rosario typically surprising his mother.

"It was good (having her here). I told myself I'm tired of surprising her. It sucks when everyone sees their family and she wasn't there," Del Rosario said. "My mom's been really supportive, although it's been hard for her. She's always been there to support me."

For Del Rosario, being home with some of his comrades is a great feeling. However, he didn't forget those who didn't make it home.

"It's great that most of us came home, but we can't forget our two fallen brothers," he said.

In May 2013, Sgt. Eugene Aguon and Spc. Dwayne Flores were killed during the deployment when their convoy was attacked in Kabul, Afghanistan's capital.

"It's always been hard for me losing a brother," Del Rosario said.

While soldiers look forward to catching up with friends and families, first lady Christine Calvo has ensured they can still make holiday memories together.

Calvo decided to keep the Guma' I Taotao Peace Festival open, which was set to close this past weekend, until all 600 of the deployed soldiers return home. She did so after receiving a letter from 10-year-old Ha'ani Losongco.

"... I would kindly ask you to keep your lights up until all of the 600 soldiers come home. The reason I'm asking you this question is because my dad is one of those 600 that will be the last to come home," Losongco's letter read. "It would be nice for the soldiers to see your lights. I'd like to enjoy your beautiful lights with my dad!"

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