A unit of the Alabama National Guard returns home from a foreign deployment

Alabama Army National Guardsmen from the 135th Expeditionary Sustainment Command (ESC) reunited with their families Jan. 14 after a year-long deployment to Kuwait.

“I’m incredulous that I’m home,” said Spc. Julius Shelton. “I’m really looking forward to seeing my family and spending time with them again.”

Families, friends and loved ones filled the Church of the Highlands Grants Mill campus auditorium in anticipation and excitement for the return of their soldiers.

“Our families carried the load while we were away,” said 135th ESC Command Sgt. Major Kevin Gaiser. “Now we’re back and we need to re-integrate and get back to our roles in the families, which sadly we had to leave behind last year.”

Brig. of the US Army General Thomas Vickers is received with a standing ovation by his soldiers in Birmingham. Vickers is the commanding general of the 135th Expeditionary Sustainment Command and has just returned with his troops from a successful tour of Kuwait. (Staff Sgt. Samuel Hartley / US Army)

Guardsmen must overcome many difficulties on deployments, including time away from home and maintaining healthy and necessary relationships.

“When I first left, my children were still young. I’ve done a lot of outreaches since then, but now my kids are grown and it almost felt harder to leave them behind this time,” Gaiser said.

But not every part of the mission is a melancholy experience. Guardsmen have their own ways of making the most of their time abroad.

“I’ve really enjoyed meeting new people, working with them, and spending time with people in the unit and in the military that you would never meet if you weren’t on duty,” Shelton said. “Eventually I got to go to Qatar and work with the Air Force, and I think that was the best part of the whole deployment.”

Like many soldiers, Gaiser justified his operational experience with the words: “We serve like everyone else, and it is an honor to serve.”

“It’s about the camaraderie that’s built, the relationships that you have while you’re away,” said 135th ESC commander Brig. Gen. Thomas Vickers. “But it never gets boring when you hear those pilots say, ‘Welcome home.'”

Despite the sensitive nature of the event, the Guardsmen found a few simple, if not humorous, luxuries to look out for after the ceremony.

“I’ll be honest. I’d really like some Chili Dogs,” Gaiser said.

Many of these Soldiers can expect a month to recover and reintegrate into their daily lives in Alabama, but Vickers says the 135th ESC has yet to play a role in its efforts to preserve freedom.

“The Army has become dependent on the National Guard and as we take this time to reunite with our families and reward ourselves for a job well done, we must be ready again.”