For Guard Soldiers, it's a Done Deal
By Julianne Hanckel
August 26, 2010
New London-based 250th Engineer Company returns home as last major Connecticut unit to leave Iraq
Windsor Locks - Spc. Omar Hernandez flew home from Iraq on emergency leave last December after his daughter, Jomayra, was born prematurely. She was immediately placed in an incubator and couldn't be picked up.
Hernandez returned to Iraq without having held his new daughter.
But on Wednesday Hernandez got his chance. He lifted 8-month-old Jomayra from her stroller and held her tightly in his arms for the first time.
At 12:05 p.m., the plane carrying soldiers of the 250th Engineer Company of New London arrived 10 minutes earlier than scheduled - and three months ahead of the date the group was supposed to leave Iraq.
"I don't even know what I'm feeling right now, I just didn't think this day would come," said Hernandez, a resident of Windham.
The hundreds of family members and friends waiting in the airport hangar of the Army Aviation Support Facility, holding posters and balloons, saw their loved ones for the first time in nine months.
As the soldiers walked closer, they scanned the crowd for their families and friends who were yelling out names and cutting through the crowd to get closer.
"He was hearing rumors that they would be coming home earlier than expected, but he wasn't sure," said Hernandez's wife, Loyda. "We found out this month that he'd be home and found out on Monday that today was the day."
The 110 soldiers of the 250th were members of the last major Connecticut Army National Guard unit to leave Iraq, said Maj. Charles K. Jaworski Jr., spokesman for the Connecticut National Guard.
"This is all part of the eventual transition to get Iraqi security forces back to 100 percent," Jaworski said.
The unit's departure leaves fewer than 50 Connecticut National Guard soldiers in Iraq. It is part of President Obama's effort to end America's combat mission in Iraq and draw down the presence of U.S. troops to 50,000 by the end of August.
The unit mobilized and departed Connecticut in November 2009 for Fort McCoy, Wis., for certification and validation. The unit built and dismantled bridges in support of combat units.
Celia and Samuel Crespo of New London also reunited with their family Wednesday. The sister and brother were deployed together for what was Celia's second deployment and Samuel's first.
"It was 10 times better having him there. My last deployment was very lonely, so through the hard times we had each other," said Celia, 24, an administrative sergeant. "There were times he'd be gone for weeks on a mission, and I would miss him being there."
When they had time, the two would go to the gym and talk to each other to help keep their spirits up.
Samuel, 25, said his sister was his "motivation."
"She was my push, and definitely brought a positive atmosphere to when I was feeling down," he said.
Samuel said his plans are to continue taking online courses and eventually earn his degree in information technology.
"That's all in the future," he said, "but right now I just want to take some time off and enjoy my family and my daughter."