NW Soldier Homecomings Signals End Of War In Afghanistan

By Austin Jenkins

For more than a decade, Washington’s Joint Base Lewis-McChord has been sending soldiers off to war and welcoming them back home. Now this cycle of deployments and homecomings is winding down. Over the next month, more than a thousand soldiers from the 4th Stryker Brigade will return home. More than 200 were welcomed back Wednesday.

In many ways, this homecoming is like all the others. There’s an Army band.

Anxious families wait on gymnasium bleachers. Homemade signs at the ready with messages like “We Missed You Daddy.” Colonel Jody Miller says soldiers coming home now will experience an Army life not seen since before 9-11.

Jody Miller: “We’re transitioning from wartime footing to training to be ready for that next call.”

Stephanie Seelye and her children eagerly await the arrival of Sgt. Aaron Seelye at an homecoming ceremony at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Photo by Austin JenkinsFor Stephanie Seelye it’s a relief. Her husband has done three wartime tours.

Stephanie Seelye: “He deployed to Iraq the first time for 15 months, then Iraq again for 12 and now Afghanistan for 9.”

Finally, word comes the buses carrying the soldiers have arrived. Seeyle puts her hand over her heart.

Stephanie Seelye: “It’s racing, I’m like oh my gosh.”

Through the back doors of the gym the soldiers march in.

Col. Miller welcomes them home.

Jody Miller: “We are so, so very proud of you. Thank you for your service and sacrifice over the last eight months.”

And then the moment everyone’s been waiting for. Seelye and her daughters frantically search the sea of camouflage fatigues for a familiar face.

Stephanie Seelye and her children eagerly await the arrival of Sgt. Aaron Seelye at an homecoming ceremony at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Photo by Austin Jenkins. 

Kids: “He’s right there he’s coming he’s right there.”

In the chaos that follows there are hugs and kisses and pictures. Sgt. Aaron Seeley kneels and reaches for his young son.

Aaron Seelye: “Hi bubba. Hi buddy.”

Later, sitting on the bleachers, Seelye calculates he’s spent nearly half his time in the Army deployed overseas.

Aaron Seelye: “I’m just happy to be home. Glad that I made it. All three of my deployments I have not sustained any injuries. And I’m just happy to be home.”

Four soldiers from this Brigade didn’t make it home. A reminder that war doesn’t always end in a happy homecoming.

Soldiers from the 4th Stryker Brigade stand in formation as they’re welcomed back from Afghanistan. Photo by Austin Jenkins

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