The 135th ESC is returning to Alabama from a year-long deployment in Kuwait

Staff Sgt. Samuel Hartley

BIRMINGHAM — Alabama Army National Guardsmen from the 135th Expeditionary Sustainment Command (ESC) reunited with their families Jan. 14, 2023 after a year-long deployment to Kuwait.

“I can’t believe I’m home,” Specialist Julius Shelton said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing my family and spending time with them again.”

Families, friends and loved ones all filled the Church of the Highlands Grants Mills campus auditorium in anticipation and excitement for the return of their Soldier.

“Our families carried the load while we were away,” commented 135th ESC Command Sergeant Major Kevin Gaiser. “Now we’re back and we need to re-integrate and get back to our roles in the families, which sadly we had to leave behind last year.”

Guardsmen must overcome many difficulties on deployments, including time away from home and maintaining healthy and necessary relationships.

135th Expeditionary Sustainment Commanding General and Brigadier General of the Alabama National Guard Thomas Vickers is seen on stage and on screen addressing his Soldiers during their post-deployment welcome ceremony in Birmingham, Alabama January 14, 2023.  The emotional speech capped a long-awaited return home by soldiers from the 135th ESC and their families.

“When I first left, my children were still small. I’ve done a lot of outreaches since then, but now my kids are grown and it almost felt harder to leave them behind this time,” Gaiser added.

But not every part of the mission is a melancholy experience. Guardsmen have their own ways of making the most of their time abroad.

“I’ve really enjoyed meeting new people, working with them over there, and spending time with people in the unit and in the military that you would never meet if you weren’t on duty,” Shelton said. “Eventually I was able to go to Qatar and work with the Air Force and I think that was the best part of the whole deployment.”

Alabama Army National Guard Capt. Boem Jung stands with his family behind a

Like many soldiers, Gaiser justified his operational experience with the words: “We serve like everyone else, and it is an honor to serve.”

“It’s about the camaraderie that’s built, the relationships that you have while you’re away,” added Brigadier General Thomas Vickers, commander of the 135th ESC. “But it never gets boring when you hear those pilots say ‘Welcome Home.'”

Despite the sensitive nature of the event, the Guardsmen found a few simple, if not humorous, luxuries to look out for after the ceremony.

A large “Welcome Home” projection greets Alabama Army National Guard Soldiers from the 135th Expeditionary Sustainment Command at a homecoming ceremony in Birmingham, Alabama January 14, 2023. Soldiers were returning to Kuwait from a year-long mobilization in support of the U.S -Central Command.

“I’ll be honest, I’d like some Chili Dogs,” Gaiser said.

Many of these Soldiers can expect a month to recover and reintegrate into their daily lives in Alabama, but Vickers says the 135th ESC has yet to play a role in its efforts to preserve freedom.

“The Army has become dependent on the National Guard and as we take this time to reunite with our families and reward ourselves for a job well done, we must be ready again.”

Alabama National Guardsmen with the 135th Expeditionary Sustainment Command approach their seats during their welcome ceremony in Birmingham, Ala., Jan. 14, 2023. The same Soldiers will be released to their families within an hour after a deployment to Kuwait.