“Relief and happiness—that’s what I felt seeing and hugging my son tight,” 54-year-old Joey Ejercito told Saipan Tribune last night, describing the moment he first saw on Monday night in Guam his oldest son, SPC Josh Ejercito, one of the 15 CNMI soldiers who just returned from their Afghanistan deployment. They are among the returning 600 soldiers with the Guam National Guard.
The 21-year-old Ejercito and 14 other soldiers from the CNMI will be arriving to a heroes’ welcome on Saipan on Thursday at approximately 8:05am.
“It’s really a big relief seeing your child for the first time after deployment. I am worry-free now, I can sleep much better knowing my son is back. During the midnight Mass, I had only one wish and that was for my son to come home safe and sound, for him to come home mentally, emotionally, and physically okay. I’m thankful that my and my family’s wish was granted,” the older Ejercito said in a phone interview from Guam.
Gov. Eloy S. Inos, in honor of the 15 soldiers’ service, will also be at the Saipan International Airport Thursday morning along with the soldiers’ families, friends, and community members.
The arrival will be followed by a motorcade from the airport, the governor’s office said yesterday.
The 15 soldiers from the CNMI arrived in Guam early Sunday morning, along with 265 others members of the Guam Army National Guard 1-294th Infantry Regiment.
They are among the total 600 soldiers from the Guam Army National Guard who were deployed throughout Afghanistan in 2013 to support NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan’s role in training, advising, and assisting Afghan security forces.
They are now part of history as the largest group of reserve component troops to be mobilized and deployed from the Marianas.
The rest of the soldiers will be arriving in Guam, also from Camp Shelby in Mississippi in the days ahead.
The CNMI governor’s office encourages the general public to participate in the welcoming of the soldiers at the Saipan airport tomorrow morning, “and display flags and yellow ribbons to show their support for the arriving Guardsmen.”
For the Ejercito family, they have prepared a “welcome home banner” and souvenir shirts for their son’s return from deployment.
“The Saipan (CNMI) community is very supportive of soldiers and we will see that again once the soldiers come home,” the older Ejercito added.
He said his son will pursue his studies, and plans to earn his bachelor’s degree upon his return.
The Commonwealth Ports Authority, meanwhile, is encouraging community members not to leave their vehicles unattended while at the Saipan International Airport for the welcoming of the soldiers.