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101st Airborne soldiers remember Gander tragedy, rejoice at homecoming from Afghanistan

8:02 AM, Dec 14, 2012   |    comments
1st Lt. Lee Hafkemeyer, with wife Devina, embraces 9-month-old son Aiden upon returning from Afghanistan with 115 fellow soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team. / Philip Grey / Gannett Tennessee
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By Philip Grey, Gannett Tennessee

FORT CAMPBELL, KY. - In a combat zone, the ultimate mission in the back of nearly everyone's mind is getting home safely, and on Thursday morning, it was "mission accomplished" for 116 soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team.

They were greeted at the Campbell Army Airfield with raucous cheering, tears, waving signs and cowbells.

The soldiers were returning from what is being heralded as a successful start to a new kind of Afghanistan mission, as U.S. forces transition from a combat-intensive role to one aimed primarily at helping Afghan forces secure their own country.

But for most of their families, friends and significant others, their biggest accomplishment was coming home.

On Wednesday, the brigade paid tribute to the loss of 248 soldiers who were returning from peacekeeping duty in Egypt when they died in the Dec. 12, 1985, plane crash in Gander, Newfoundland. On Thursday, spirits were brighter as the unit was able to rejoice along with everyone else in the safe homecoming of their soldiers from Afghanistan.

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