MADISON (WKOW) -- Soldiers from the 467th Stress Unit, an Army Reserve outfit that lost one-quarter of its troops in the Fort Hood shootings, say they kept their fallen comrades close, but focused on work to make it through a year of deployment in Afghanistan.
The Madison-based unit returned to Wisconsin Friday, but some of its soliders saw family for the first time Saturday morning.
"To the members of the 467th, thank you for being a part of our team, for you dedication to serving others, and for completing the mission despite our adversities," said the unit's commander, Maj. Laura Suttinger, her voice cracking.
The 467th arrived in Fort Hood just one day before it all happened.
On November 9, 2009, a gunman opened fire, killing 13, and wounding dozens more.
Three of the killed soldiers were from the 467th; six more from the outfit were wounded.
Just one month after the deadly shootings, the unit was deployed to Afghanistan.
Sgt. Kara Kortenkamp, of La Crosse, says going overseas was a welcome distraction.
"We were doing what we set out to do, and I knew that's what our fallen would have wanted," she said, wiping a tear from her eye.
In Afghanistan, it was the 467th's job to treat soldiers with stress and mental health problems.
The outfit is made up of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists, and mental health experts.
But the soliders admit, they had problems of their own.
They say they turned to each other when a comrade needed support, but always with an eye to soldier on.
"We weren't trying to dwell in the past, and make every single day about one day of our lives. It was about moving forward, completing the mission we were on, helping the people we were with," said Staff Sgt. Dick Hurtig of Madison.
But the unit never forgot its fallen, wearing black hero's bracelets with their names and a message of resilience.
"Who will go for us?" read Suttinger of Fort Atkinson, carefully rotating the precious wristband. "Send me. Eleven-five-oh-nine."
Now that they're home, the soldiers say coping will be different.
For the families, it's been a tough year.
"You expect that they're going to see some bad things while they're there, in Afghanistan," said Milly Jones, Kortenkamp's mother. "But certainly not here, on American soil. Yea, it was scary."
But most of all, the soldiers say Fort Hood, and then deployment, taught them lessons they'll never forget.
"Experiencing death makes you appreciate life more. Experiencing austere conditions makes you appreciate the things you have waiting for you back home," said Suttinger with a smile to her husband and 7-year-old son in the back of the room.