Pte Gavin MacKenzie is greeted by his mother Odella and daughter Evelyn at Dublin Airport on his return. Photo: Pat Moore.
Coming close to Christmas the atmosphere in Dublin Airport is very special as loved ones return home.
Last Thursday, however, Christmas came early for the families of our troops as they returned from six months in Lebanon.
The Arrivals Hall was tense with excitement and filled with Irish flags, green bunting, newly born babies, proud grannies and entire extended families. When the gates opened and the first troops arrived in their UN uniforms tears of joy flowed and they received a most deserved hero’s welcome. The 190 members 53 Infantry Group looked a bit stunned by the reception but their military bearing was soon lost as they embraced loved ones and friends.
The unit was successfully deployed under the command of Lt Col Stephan Ryan in May. Lt Col Ryan said “We are delighted to have returned home safely after a successful tour of duty in South Lebanon. We are all looking forward to spending time with our families and friends. It is a nice time of year to be coming home as we can enjoy the lead into Christmas. Ireland should be extremely proud of each and every soldier here today; they worked tirelessly over the past six months to maintain peace in South Lebanon. They were tremendous ambassadors for Ireland and deserve praise and now a well earned break”.
Although the returning soldiers were from 24 counties, the majority were from Kilkenny and based in James Stephens Barracks. Private Alan Dowling from Kilkenny City was delighted to have completed his first tour of duty abroad; he found it challenging and demanding yet enjoyable. Alan smiled and said, “I can’t wait to spend time with my family and friends. It’s going to be a big change not having the warm weather of Lebanon, but sure a bit of rain won’t hurt anyone and a night by a fire will be great for a change.”
Another Kilkenny native, Sgt Ruth Comerford was completing her fourth tour of duty abroad. Ruth was emotionally welcomed home to her small children and is looking forward to Christmas. Ruth said “it was very hard to be away from my children for six months but it was great to have the support of my family and friends while I am away to make it easier, overseas is challenging for all involved”.
Kilkenny resident Captain Tom Fitzpatrick held his new born baby for the first time in the airport. Tom and his wife Andrea are both army offices and were married prior to Tom’s deployment. As with all the troops, Tom and Andrea were met by Paulstown native Brig Gen Philip Brennan in the airport. With many years of overseas service under his belt, Gen Brennan understood the importance of this return ceremony stating: “For the families it’s a very special time; for the troops it’s an enormously milestone – the job is over; mission completed and they can now focus on their families”.
A veteran of 13 deployments, Sgt-Major Dave Heaphy will be returning to the 3 Infantry Battalion in Kilkenny as unit Sgt Major. Dave said “It was an extremely enjoyable and thankfully a safe trip. It is great for our young soldiers to have completed their first mission; hopefully this will be the spring board for long and fruitful careers in the Defence Forces for them. They have given great service to their country”.
Company Quarter Master Lar Bracken had a very special reason to enjoy this particular homecoming. Returning from his final tour of duty, with 15 previous trips to his credit, Lar and his wife are expecting a baby at Christmas. Lar said “I am thrilled to be home for the last time and it is great to be able to give my wife a helping hand with the new arrival.”
Christmas indeed came early in the airport last week. We wish Lar, Dave, Tom, Ruth, Alan and all the soldiers of 53 Inf Gp, their families, loved-ones and friends a very happy and well deserved Christmas. Welcome Home!