Emotional scenes as 130 Irish troops return from Golan Heights
After several months in conflict zones in the Middle East, the most pressing mission for 130 Irish soldiers this week was reuniting with their families.
Marriage, milky tea and dinners from mammies were all cause for celebration among members of the 48th Infantry Group as they stepped off their plane in Casement Aerodrome.
For 34 members of the regiment, it was their first time on an overseas mission.
The peacekeeping force had been deployed to the Golan Heights in April 2015. While Irish troops have previously served in neighbouring Lebanon, it was the first time the Defence Forces had patrolled the unstable region between Israel and Syria.
Returning soldiers recalled that it was a hard mission, but said they were delighted to be on Irish soil once again.
It was Sgt. Maj. Noel O’Callaghan’s seventh tour abroad in a military career that has spanned 40 years.
“It was a great mission, we have some great people out there, but really it’s about getting the lads home safe and getting them home to their families.”
For Sgt. Maj. O’Callaghan (57), spending time with family in Westmeath and escaping from military uniform were particular highlights.
“It’ll be great to just take off my boots,” he said.
Pte. Brianna O’Sullivan (24) said that coming home was “overwhelming” but that she was thrilled to see her family again.
“There are a lot of hard times out there now, and you see videos online of the war out there so it’s harder when you have to see it out there,” she said.
However, the Donegal native said she loved bonding with the six other female members on the mission.
“We all bonded in the evenings, and we were sharing rooms and telling stories,” she added.
Along with spending time with loved ones, a Chinese takeaway and a cup of tea were also top priorities for Pte. O’Sullivan.
Meanwhile, one returning soldier was welcomed home by his bride-to-be and two young children, Charlie (2) and Zac (1).
“Words can’t describe it,” said Bryan Nolan from Longford. “I really missed the family, and I’m seeing a lot of changes since I’ve been away in the little boys.”
“We’ve a wedding to plan next year,” he added. “It’s a busy 12 months ahead of me!”
Bryan’s fiancée Amy Brennan (25) said that the two children had grown up a lot since their father departed.
“Zac was only six months, so his Daddy missed his first steps and everything,” she told the Irish Independent.
“It was [Bryan’s] first time away from the kids, and his first time away from home as well,” she added. “He’s so excited to be home.”
The force will have a few weeks of rest and recuperation before their next assignment.