Story and photos by Dustin Senger
A company of Army Reservists stepped inside the Special Events Center Jan. 21 after completing a one-year deployment handling detainee operations in Afghanistan.
Capt. James Balutowski, 308th Military Police Company, 244th Engineer Battalion, a Reserve unit headquartered at Fort Carson, reported the return of almost 100 Soldiers. They faced a set of bleachers packed with hundreds of Family members and friends, cheering with welcome home signs, gripping balloons and holding flowers.
The Reservists mobilized in January 2011 to Fort Bliss, Texas. Two months later, they landed in Afghanistan, where they’d spend the next 10 months managing the detention facility in Parwan.
Balutowski said the Soldiers upheld their professionalism, while handling thousands of high-risk detainees.
“They did outstanding,” said Balutowski, describing the Soldiers as Bagram Airfield’s experts in corrections. Their insight resulted in several changes to the detention facility, such as the addition of three new wings. The unit mitigated language and cultural barriers while tackling a difficult mission, he said.
“They were dealing with detained terrorists who, a couple of hours ago, were trying to kill their buddies on the battlefield,” said Balutowski. “Now they’re responsible for their care, custody and control.”
“It was mentally challenging to say the least … as a Soldier and a civilian,” said Sgt. Chris Baldwin, shortly after reuniting with his fiancée. “It’s just great to be back and breathe the fresh air again.”
Spc. Andrea Nein described the deployment as “a good learning experience … I learned a lot about myself.
“It feels amazing … being away from the people you love and seeing them again,” said Nein, while hugging her energetic West Highland terrier, surrounded by more than a dozen people wearing “I (love) Spc. Nein” T-shirts. Her Family and friends had converged from five states to welcome her home.
“I was nervous. A good nervous,” said Nein, about the moments leading to the welcome home ceremony. “It’s the end of missing someone — when you stop missing someone, that’s a great feeling.”