FORT DRUM — Melody Gutierrez said that she wanted to surprise her husband, Spc. Arturo “A.J.” Gutierrez, as he returned from six months in Cameroon.
Explaining that their nickname as a couple is “Chunky Monkey,” and that her husband is the “Chunky” in that equation, Mrs. Gutierrez said she overcame her shyness and broke out a monkey-styled jumpsuit.
“I don’t think he’s expecting this,” Mrs. Gutierrez said.
Reuniting with his wife Monday night, Spc. Gutierrez smiled as he saw his wife’s suit. The deployment was the first away from his wife, which he said was difficult.
“Being out here, I’m already away from my family,” Spc. Gutierrez said. “Then being over there, I was away from her as well.”
About 115 soldiers, primarily from C Company of the 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, served in a security role with Task Force Darby in Garoua. American forces are developing security forces in Cameroon that are taking on extremist groups like Boko Haram.
“They’re obviously passionate about their security,” said Capt. Luke Dunaway, the company’s commander. “Being able to help them means a lot.”
Col. Shane P. Morgan, commander of the 10th Mountain Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, said that in addition to their security work, soldiers helped a local hospital improve their sanitation, taught English to locals, mentored children at a youth center and provided supplies to a nearby orphanage.
“These soldiers truly were the face of U.S. presence in West Africa, all of which contributes to keeping our country safe,” he said.
The homecoming was sweet for Spc. Craig Robillard and his wife, Angelica. With the deployment spanning holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving, Mrs. Robillard said her children, Craig III, 2, and Max, 1, regularly asked where their father was.
“It’s hard when you’re by yourself, with no family nearby,” she said.
Spc. Robillard said he was ready to get back into his family’s life. Their first plan: a day together visiting a zoo.