280 soldiers returned to Fort Carson Thursday. For one in the group, the homecoming was made sweeter by a surprise 15 months in the making.
A seat in the bleachers of Fort Carson’s Special Event Center is a wish granted for family of Ft. Carson soldiers. A wait of more than a year is over for all, including Vicki Russell.
"This is the longest and hardest so far," Russell said.
Standing in the gym means her husband Andrew is home after his third deployment to Iraq.
Andrew's wish: to hit the back country with his family by re-building an ’85 Toyota 4Runner that didn't look like much when he left.
Homecomings are magical in the Mountain Post’s room of reunion. After 15 months, SGT Andrew Russell was back in the arms of his family Thursday.
"It's always a long deployment!" he said.
Moments later, outside, he was reunited with his truck, surrounded by friends and cheers of welcome.
"He's probably the best friend I have out here we were in the Army together," said Matt Thompson.
Thompson is why it pays off to be best friends with a mechanic: with parts donated from a list of local businesses, he restored the 4Runner in secret to road-ready status, something Russell thought he'd never see.
Russell has a daughter with cystic fibrosis, which naturally took priority over his attempts at a re-build.
"He was wanting to sell it to spend more time with his family," Thompson said.
Russell can now spend that time with his family in his favorite way, free of charge.
"This is the most incredible thing that's ever happened to me in my 28 years of life,” Russell said.
The truck may be incredible to Andrew, but it was simply a labor of love to his friends who only wanted to grant Andrew's wish of a gift of freedom, for fighting for theirs.
"Hopefully he'll be happy with it!" Thompson said.