Ann Mora and Misty Bauer carried a heavy weight when they awoke early Wednesday to attend a homecoming celebration for their husbands’ artillery company.
Their husbands’ fellow artillerymen wanted to help them lift it.
Their husbands – Staff Sgt. Conrad Mora and Spc. Joseph Bauer – were killed July 24 by a roadside bomb. The blast also killed two more of their comrades, Sgt. Daniel Lim and Spc. Andrew Hand.
Ann Mora and Misty Bauer stood in for their husbands when their unit came home for good from its yearlong deployment in Afghanistan. They joined hundreds of other family members in a gymnasium at Joint Base Lewis-McChord to welcome the 5th Battalion, 3rd Artillery Regiment of the 17th Fires Brigade.
The two widows held urns that contained their husbands’ ashes. Some soldiers paused to kneel in front of them, quietly touching the urns and whispering to Anna Mora and Misty Bauer.
“He’s still part of the unit,” Misty Bauer, 25, said. “I’m very happy that they’re returning, but it just breaks my heart that he’s not.”
Their tears contrasted with a buoyant mood at the homecoming. Soldiers grabbed their spouses for long kisses. They held the children they’ve missed, and grinned as they looked ahead to a month of hard-earned downtime.
“She’s huge,” said Spc. Anthony Robertson, 22, taking in a full look at his 15-month-old daughter. “I know she’s walking already, and that boggles my mind.”
Components of the 17th Fires Brigade went six different ways last year. Most of the brigade’s artillerymen went to Basra, Iraq, and returned from combat in August.
One battalion with 280 artillerymen was sent to Afghanistan, where it protected airfields and cleared roads of deadly improvised explosive devices. It was split into two separate batteries, and further splintered into smaller missions around Afghanistan.
The last 130 soldiers from the Afghanistan battalion arrived home Wednesday morning.
“They sacrificed more than anybody,” Col. Steven Bullimore, the brigade’s commander, said in a brief speech to the soldiers. “They lived harder. They lived more dangerously. They risked more, and they left four of their brothers on the battlefield in Afghanistan. Their job every day was to go out and hunt the ones who were hunting them.”