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Safe and sound 
By Air Force Staff Sgt. Aaron Rognstad,  Colorado National Guard Public Affairs 
FA Home 
More than 400 Soldiers of the Colorado Army National Guard’s 3rd Battalion, 157th Field Artillery, salute the flag during the playing of the national anthem at a welcome home ceremony at Eaglecrest High School in Centennial, Colo., March 31, 2010. The largest contingent of the COARNG to deploy since World War II, the 2-257 FA Soldiers deployed to Camp Ramadi in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, for nearly a year. While there, they performed personnel security missions for the Department of State, convoy operations, and base life support and defense operations. (Official U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Aaron Rognstad/Released)
Hundreds of tired but happy faces emerged from three separate jets parked out on the tarmac on a blustery spring day on Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colo.

Deplaning the jets March 31 were the more than 400 Soldiers from the Colorado Army National Guard’s 3rd Battalion, 157th Field Artillery, who were returning to their family and friends after being away from home for a year.

“It’s refreshing to be back,” said Spc. Timothy Hesslink of Battery A, “back in nice, clean Colorado air.”

On April 15, 2009, 3-157 FA Soldiers left as part of the largest mobilization of Colorado National Guard Soldiers since World War II. They completed three months of pre-mobilization training at Fort Hood, Texas, then deployed to Camp Ramadi in Al-Anbar Province, Iraq.

Led by Lt. Col. Al Morris, the battalion’s primary mission was to provide security for Provisional Reconstruction Teams.

“During the deployment, they (3-157 FA) conducted more than 400 escort missions, 2,000 base patrols, operated Camp Ramadi, oversaw its defenses and traveled over 41,000 miles outside the wire,” Morris said. “We brought everyone home with only one Soldier wounded in action.”

Sgt. Martin May returned home in November as a result of his injury.

The 3-157 FA also performed a crucial role in the transfer of installations, missions and security functions to the Iraqi Security Forces. Additionally, the unit established a security, humanitarian aid, reconstruction and training partnership with the Iraqi army and associated police units.

“It was an amazingly complex mission for a National Guard unit to have, and yet all missions were accomplished and we brought everyone home alive – even though it’s still a very dangerous operating environment,” said Capt. John Sweet, the battalion’s intelligence officer. “I really feel like everybody in the battalion did a great job. It was a long mission, but we did good work and it’s good to be home.”

This was Sweet’s second Iraq deployment. Many of the battalion’s veteran Soldiers shared this commonality with Sweet, like Staff Sgt. George Debono, who served in Iraq in 2007-08.

Debono said the battalion accomplished its mission and he was satisfied with the outcome.  

After the stop-over at Buckley, the 3-157 FA Soldiers were bused to Eaglecrest High School in Centennial, Colo., where their family and friends waited to greet them for the first time in a year.

During this initial homecoming ceremony, the crowd erupted into a frenzied cheer when all the Soldiers marched onto the gymnasium floor and lined up in formation for the playing of the national anthem. Shortly thereafter, the Soldiers were released to their loved ones and pandemonium ensued as spouses rushed to their partners, girlfriends to their boyfriends, and children to their parents.

“I’m excited, but he irritates … me sometimes, so it’ll be about a week before I’ll be ready to send him back,” joked Renae Morones, sister of Spc. John Severe. “It’s good having him home safe.”

On two separate occasions in Kuwait and Iraq, Severe linked up with his father, Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Severe. Attached to the Army Reserve’s 443rd Transportation Company out of Fort Carson, Colo., Jeffrey was on a year-long tour of duty in Iraq that coincided with his son’s.

“It was a surprise. He banged on the door and I was half asleep and I said, ‘What are you doing here?’” said John, who was a tower guard at entry control points in Camp Ramadi. “It was one of those bangs on your door where you think you’re going to be told to do a detail, but it turned out to be my dad.”

All details aside, the Soldiers of the 3-157 FA are now home, safe and sound with their loved ones.

“All of your hard work, training and outstanding leadership helped bring everyone home,” Morris told his Soldiers at a formal welcome home ceremony at 1stBANK Center in Broomfield, Colo., April 1. “I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for all of the sacrifices that you have endured to accomplish the mission that you were assigned.”