Happy homecoming for Army Engineer company
Dressed in a red-white-and-blue dress, 5-year-old Olivia Hutchings couldn't get enough of her dad's hugs Wednesday afternoon. She wasn't letting go of Sgt. 1st Class Steve Hutchings as he and other members of the 312th Army Reserve Engineer Co. r...
Dressed in a red-white-and-blue dress, 5-year-old Olivia Hutchings couldn't get enough of her dad's hugs Wednesday afternoon.
She wasn't letting go of Sgt. 1st Class Steve Hutchings as he and other members of the 312th Army Reserve Engineer Co. returned home to Duluth after a nine-month tour in Iraq.
Kerry Hutchings, his wife, said the deployment had been tough on the whole family, including daughters Olivia and Erica, age 7, and son Luke, 10, all of Chisholm.
"We did lots of praying," she said.
Those prayers apparently were realized Wednesday.
For 1st Lt. Daniel Elnes, commander of the 312th, the best part of the homecoming was indisputable.
"As far as I know, everyone is returning healthy and ready to reintegrate into civilian life," he said.
About 50 members of the engineer company based in Duluth have successfully completed a deployment to Iraq, and most arrived back home via commercial flights at Duluth International Airport on Wednesday.
"We gave them a tough job, and they did an awesome thing for our country," Elnes said. "It's great to see them return home safe."
Sgt. Adam Mumma of Duluth said the unit's mission ran the gamut.
"We were in charge of route clearing. We dug trenches. Anything that needed to be done, we did it," he said.
Mumma said he, too, was thankful the unit sustained no losses. The secret?
"Train. Train. Train. Safety. Safety. Safety," he said.
Members of the 312th were stationed for most of the tour at Camp Liberty, south of Baghdad.
Spc. Leo Jewett of Duluth found his first deployment far less eventful than he anticipated.
"I drove a dump truck and hauled rock," he said. "It was like having an 8-to-4 job."
Elnes said the unit specializes in "horizontal engineering," which is largely road work.
Jewett said he, personally, had no close calls. "It was my first deployment, and I didn't know what to expect. But I guess I thought there would be a little more action."
Alyson O'Donnell, Jewett's fiancé, said she was overjoyed to have him home after a trying nine months.
"It's a lot scarier that people realize," O'Donnell said.
"It's even hard when the phone rings, because it could be anything from news that Leo was hurt to news that he's coming home," she said. "If it's real bad, they come to your home, so I was probably more afraid of a knock on the door than anything."
Crystal Gabrisko of Chisholm said soldiers' spouses provided invaluable support to one another during the deployment.
"It's been a long nine months," she said as she waited for her husband, Spc. Corey Gabrisko, to deboard his plane.
Alicia Mumma, wife of Sgt. Mumma, agreed that the support network has been helpful, saying: "All of us Army wives are on Facebook and Skype all the time."
She said friendships with other wives from the unit helped her during lonely times.
"It's hard losing your best friend," she said, reflecting on her husband's recent tour of duty.
Mumma said she also leaned heavily on extended family to help, especially with her 2-year-old son, A.J., and 6-year-old daughter, Kaiya. "You're basically a single parent during a deployment," she said.