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Wives ready Fort Lewis for troops' return

Few get this excited about making a bed, never mind making more than 200 beds.

But these half-dozen wives had a spring in their steps Friday as they tucked corners and smoothed blankets and sheets, one of innumerable tasks

both large and small

under way to prepare for the return of the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) after a 15-month deployment to Iraq.

"It's like the light at the end of the tunnel," Melissa Townsend, wife of Col. Steve Townsend, the brigade commander, said in an earlier interview. "You can put your hands on it."

The brigade's "torch" party is scheduled to return home in early September to lay the groundwork for welcoming back the rest of the 3,600-soldier unit. Then, in a ritual that will repeat itself numerous times in subsequent weeks, weary soldiers will reunite with overjoyed spouses and children shortly after stepping off a plane.

The family readiness group for the Brigade Troops Battalion wanted to ensure the return was just as memorable for single soldiers whose families may live far away. More than half of the battalion's 450 soldiers are unmarried.

So the group went to work Friday to give a touch of home to quarters that have been vacate for more than a year. They started with making the beds. Over the weekend, they will ensure the comforts and necessities of home are waiting for the soldiers, such as toothbrushes, shaving cream, razors and a plate of oven-baked cookies.

"We would like them to feel as good when they come home as our husbands do," said Sharon Lemke, whose husband, Ryan, is a sergeant assigned to the battalion.

The family readiness groups for the brigade's other subordinate units are taking similar steps to welcome home their single soldiers.

The groups also have been busy creating the colorful banners for the homecoming ceremonies and getting the materials ready for the upcoming redeployment briefings for spouses and families.

"It takes a while to get ready," Townsend said. "There's a lot of steps."

It's welcome work for spouses who have worried and wondered these many months when they'd see the final days of what often seemed an endless deployment.

"It's hard," said Chastity Aguilar, whose husband, Sean, is a staff sergeant assigned to the Brigade Troops Battalion. "You stick together. You make the best out of it."

Five of the brigade's seven battalions deployed to Mosul in northern Iraq starting last summer and then reunited this year with the other two battalions that were sent to Baghdad from the start. Since then, the brigade's infantry battalions have been engaged in tough fights against the insurgency in and around the capital city.

More than 40 soldiers assigned to the brigade have died in Iraq during the deployment.

With her husband overseas, Melody Baker had to watch their son's graduation and send him off to college in Arkansas alone. Her husband, James, a chief warrant officer assigned to the Brigade Troops Battalion, also was with the brigade during its first deployment to Iraq in late 2003.

The second time hasn't been any easier, she said.

"This means it's getting closer," she said as she made another bed with assistance from her 15-year-old daughter, Bethany.

Christian Hill covers the city of Lacey and military for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5427 or at chill@theolympian.com.

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