The round-the-clock days at war are over for Sgt. 1st Class Sonia Reyes.
She came home Wednesday from her yearlong deployment with Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s I Corps in Afghanistan, where the troops managed daily combat operations across the country.
Now she’s getting ready to spend some quality time with the baby she left behind last summer.
“It’s been hard for me to leave my firstborn,” said Reyes, 31, of Lacey, tearing up at a celebration for
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about 50 soldiers returning to the base south of Tacoma. It was her fourth deployment.
Reyes returned on the last flight home for the 600 or so I Corps soldiers who served under Lewis-McChord senior Army officer Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti in Kabul. He ran a headquarters known as the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command.
Their homecoming marked the end of the corps’ second deployment as a combat headquarters in the wars of the past decade. The first was in 2009-10, when the I Corps managed the war in Iraq.
“We’ve done everything we set out to do.” Scaparrotti told families of the soldiers who came home Wednesday. “I’m proud to be their commander.”
Looking back, Scaparrotti said he saw progress after the I Corps arrived in the Afghanistan capital last June.
He told Pentagon reporters this week that the enemy’s ranks have diminished and the Taliban are less effective when it tries to execute complex attacks. He said Afghan security forces increasingly are in the front of the fighting.
Those gains, he said, are laying the foundation for a stable Afghanistan.
Yet he also dealt with several high-profile setbacks at the hands of U.S. forces, such as the accidental burning of Qurans at Bagram Air Base in February, a November strike that killed Pakistani soldiers, and the March massacre of 16 Afghan civilians, allegedly by Lewis-McChord Staff Sgt. Robert Bales.
He praised Afghan partners for protecting American forces when those incidents threatened to destabilize Afghan communities. NATO is on track to hand over more responsibility for security to Afghan forces over the next two years, he said.
“We still have important things to get done,” he said.
Scaparrotti is expected to leave Lewis-McChord this summer for a position at the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Maj. Gen. Robert Brown is in line to take the post as I Corps commander.
Scaparrotti embraced his wife after dismissing his staff and he wore a broad smile while he greeted their families.
“It’s hard to describe. I can’t find words to describe it. It’s magnificent,” he said.
I Corps Command Sgt. Maj. John Troxell said the deployment was the “most fulfilling experience” of his Army career. He left the I Corps headquarters in Kabul regularly to visit with NATO and Afghan forces all over the country.
“Part of me wishes I was still there,” he said.
The main change, he said, was that Afghan forces are more capable than they were when he arrived in Kabul a year ago.
“Last June, in 90 percent of the fighting, we were in the lead. Now it’s the Afghans in the lead while we’re following. Seeing that change has been phenomenal,” he said.
Troxell is staying at Lewis-McChord as the senior enlisted officer. He’s planning some rigorous exercises and educational programs for the base’s noncommissioned officers.
“I’ve got big plans for what we’re going to do back here,” he said. “I’m going to get right back into it.”
Reyes, the mom who just got back to her baby, shared Troxell’s sense of pride when she described her work. She’ll be with family enjoying some rest until her husband, Staff Sgt. Ronaldo Reyes, leaves on his next deployment with Lewis-McChord’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.
“The job was demanding. It was stressful,” she said. “But it was rewarding.”