Sgt. Madeh Lincoln holds close his 21-month-old daughter, Maliva, for the first time in almost 10 months. Too young to recognize his face and a bit puzzled, the toddler breaks out into tears and makes a subtle move for the comfort of her mother Eliza’s arms.
Lincoln holds her tight, nonetheless.
Just a few yards away, Stephanie Elkins and her two children, 2-year-old Hunter and 6-year-old Cassie, are encircled with someone they haven’t hugged for some time. Sgt. Michael Elkins hasn’t been seen in person since August, and his wife, head resting on his shoulders, stands sobbing in relief.
He matches her tear for tear.
Those emotional scenes were played out several times over at Clark Fitness Center as about 90 Soldiers of the 16th Quartermaster Company made their way home and reunited with Family members after completing a 15-month deployment to Iraq.
About 100 Soldiers, Family members and others were on hand to greet the returning Soldiers in the facility’s gym, complete with balloons and “Welcome Home” posters hanging from the walls and patriotic music blaring from loudspeakers. It was a festive occasion and fitting, said Capt. Juan Vega, the 16th’s commander.
“Everybody’s in good spirits,” he says, “ready to get back to their Families and loved ones and ready to reintegrate with them.”
The 16th QM Co. is an element of the 530th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 49th QM Group. Its mission is to provide support in the form of textile maintenance, laundry, and showers for Soldiers who do not have those services available. Vega said the unit’s performance in the theater of operations is worthy of note.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the job my guys did out there,” he says, “because they went out to very austere locations supporting warfighters, and they always performed their missions with 100 percent success.”
On the home front, Family members missed their Soldiers’ help with household chores, schoolwork, home maintenance, child care and a litany of other tasks, not to mention their presence alone. The fact that they were home made all those struggles seem worlds away, if only for a moment.
“All I care about now is that he’s home and he’s safe,” says Stephanie Elkins. “This last month, I had feelings that something was going to happen, so I’m so thankful to God that He watched over them.”
All around the Elkins group, Soldiers and Family members took time to reconnect to loved ones. Hugs, smiles and handshakes were abundant and many of the children were already engaged in horseplay with the many fathers present.
Sgt. Lincoln, still struggling to get a response out of daughter, Maliva, seems to be making progress. She’s less stiff now and even cracks a shy smile after he tickles her belly.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said an emotional Eliza in seeing the two reconnect. “I think she knows that’s her daddy … I think it’s beautiful.”
Standing next to his wife, and holding his baby, Sgt. Lincoln said that it’s moments like this that makes coming home so special.
“It makes everything worth coming home to,” he said, “knowing you have family who support you and care about you.”
The 16th Quartermaster Company was one of the first Fort Lee units that served an extended tour in Iraq under a policy implemented early last year. The policy extended the unit’s deployment an additional three months. The extended tour policy has since been rescinded to 12 months.