It's been a long year for Helen Lowery.
During a summer getaway to Maui last year, then-boyfriend Capt. Nick Harrison proposed to her just before he began a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in July 2009.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through,” Lowery said. “But it’s worth it, because he’s amazing.”
The couple were reunited Monday night during a ceremony in a packed Wilson Gym at Lewis-McChord – a scene replayed around 250 times as the first big batch of troops from the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division returned home.
For members of the Stryker brigade, it’s been a rough year – 36 members have been reported killed, mostly in bomb blasts. And while losing friends has been difficult for her fiancé, Lowery said, it’s something they haven’t discussed much.
“He’s a very strong person,” she said. “I’m supposed to be his support, but really, he’s been mine.”
The mood at Wilson Gym on Monday night was far from gloomy, as eager families and children waved signs and held balloons welcoming loved ones home. Lowery, a nurse from University Place, could barely contain her excitement.
“She hasn’t been this impatient since she found out she might be getting that ring,” said Summer Lowery, Helen’s sister.
And then, in what Lewis-Mc-Chord spokesman Joseph Piek called the “shortest welcome home I’ve ever heard,” Col. Brian Pugmire congratulated the troops on a “job well done.” And a year of waiting was over.
“It’s a great feeling to be back home,” Harrison said.
Their wedding is set for Dec. 10.
These troops are not the first of the 5th Brigade to return – an advance party returned earlier this month to help prepare for the rest of the brigade’s homecoming.
The bulk of the unit’s nearly 4,000 troops will return to Lewis-McChord in waves before the end of July.
The brigade was first activated in April 2007 and was originally directed to Iraq in September 2008. But in February 2009, it was redirected to Afghanistan as part of the Obama administration’s buildup. It has spent the majority of its deployment fighting in Kandahar province.