Arkansas National Guard members return from mission to train Ukrainians

Members of the Arkansas Army National Guard greet colleagues on the runway at the Signature Air Terminal hangar in Little Rock after returning from deployment overseas on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024. The members of the Arkansas Army National Guard returned after training nearly 7,500 Ukrainian armed services members in Germany to defend against Russian forces. More photos at arkansasonline.com/114army/. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Colin Murphey)
Members of the Arkansas Army National Guard greet colleagues on the runway at the Signature Air Terminal hangar in Little Rock after returning from deployment overseas on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024. The members of the Arkansas Army National Guard returned after training nearly 7,500 Ukrainian armed services members in Germany to defend against Russian forces. More photos at arkansasonline.com/114army/. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Colin Murphey)


After a mission to help train Ukrainian soldiers defending against Russia's invasion, more than 160 members of the Arkansas National Guard returned home Saturday.

Among those who arrived in Little Rock on Saturday afternoon was Staff Sgt. Jonathan Creighton, 27, of Pine Bluff, who was returning home after his first deployment since enlisting when he was 17.

He said that what he missed most was "easily his family," including his wife, whom he married three days before he left. Second to that, he missed "home-cooked food."

"The food's great over there, don't get me wrong," Creighton said. "The bratwurst and all that is amazing, but it's just not home cooking."

For about eight months, the members of the 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team led the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine in Grafenwoehr, Germany, helping to train more than 7,000 members of the Ukrainian armed forces.

"There's a lot of emotions, I feel grateful, excited and proud -- proud of our soldiers and their service and their sacrifice to train Ukrainians to defend their country," Col. Chad Bridges, commander of the 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, said.

"There are very few Americans that are actually a part of that training, so we feel deeply privileged."

Working closely with Ukrainian soldiers was inspiring for the brigade, Bridges said.

"To be able to interact, train and just see the unity, purpose, commitment and sacrifice of these Ukrainian soldiers that are willing to fight and die for their country -- our hearts are with them as we're back here with our families, but they are not," he said.

The guard members left Arkansas on April 4 to mobilize at Fort Bliss, Texas, and took charge of the Joint Multinational Training Group on April 28.

On Jan. 5, they handed off their responsibilities to the 155th Armored Brigade of the Mississippi National Guard.

A day later, they arrived back at their demobilization station in Fort Bliss.

At the Signature Air Terminal hangar at Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field in Little Rock on Saturday, Cheyann Fraysher, 30, of Lafe in Greene County, and Bethani Jones, 29, of Harrisburg were two in the sea of people awaiting their loved ones.

Both wore custom T-shirts covered with pictures of their husbands' faces.

Fraysher planned to surprise her 11-year-old and 9-year-old with their dad's homecoming later Saturday.


Jones said her husband's deployment was the first in the three years they've been married. Her 2-year-old daughter was just 1 when her husband was deployed.

"I just hope she remembers him," Jones said. "She mostly knows him from pictures and videos in the phone."

When they get home, she joked, "I'm gonna lock him in the house and never let him leave again."

My Ly is a Report for America Corps member.



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