'Glad to finally be home'

145 soldiers return from yearlong tour in Afghanistan


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Alyssa Smith, 8, shares a tearful embrace with her father, Sgt. 1st Class Jason Smith, at JBER on March 24. Smith's 2-year-old daughter, Caleigh, stands at right.

STAR PHOTO BY MIKE NESPER

It’s good to be home.

That’s something perhaps no one better understands than Sgt. 1st Class Derick Justice.

After a yearlong tour in Afghanistan, Justice was reunited with his wife, Melissa, and 10-year-old daughter, Cassy on Saturday, March 24 on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. Justice was one of 145 soldiers from the 164th Military Police Company, 793rd Military Police Battalion, 2nd Engineer Brigade welcomed home by friends and family at JBER’s Buckner Physical Fitness Center.

“I’m just glad to finally be home,” Justice said. “It gets tiring.”

The company, whose nickname is the “Arctic Enforcers,” deployed to Afghanistan in March 2011. They conducted police mentorship training for Afghan police in order to develop their abilities to operate independently, according to a press release.

The unit previously served in Afghanistan from March 2005 to March 2006 and in Iraq from July 2007 to September 2008.

Justice said he couldn’t wait to return to his Eagle River home to spend time with his family, eat good food and sleep in his bed.

Cassy, a Fire Lake Elementary student, was happy to have her dad back in Alaska.

“I can’t wait to go home and play games,” she said.

Cassy said she and her dad enjoy playing outside together as well as playing video games. Guitar Hero is their favorite game, Derick said.

Melissa said she was looking forward to spending time together as a family.

Cassy said the thing she misses most when Derick is gone is having fun with her dad.

The toughest part of deployment is being away from his family, Derick said. Soldiers also learn to appreciate modern conveniences, he said.

“You really miss the simple things — like not having to go outside to go to the bathroom,” he said.

Justice said he also misses the liberties he enjoys in the United States while overseas.

“We have a lot more freedom when we’re home,” he said.

This was Derick’s fourth tour overseas. Having her husband of more than 11 years halfway around the world for long periods of time is always difficult, Melissa said.

“It doesn’t get easier,” she said. “You just get used to it.”

Melissa, who has watched her husband leave for every one of his overseas tours of duty, said the feeling is always the same when he has to go.

“It still breaks your heart,” she said.

 

Contact Mike Nesper at 694-2727 or mike.nesper@alaskastar.com

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