"It's a mental adjustment," he said of constantly being on call for five months.
But Whitney, one of the deployed pathfinders, said the mind-set was not too different from what his unit is used to.
"We're always ready to go," he said. "We're out the door in 15 minutes if needed. That's the lifestyle."
American pathfinder units were created in World War II by Gen. Jim Gavin, former commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division. The units, formed from soldiers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, were tasked with jumping ahead of larger groups of paratroopers to mark drop zones and pinpoint enemy positions.
Whitney said it was an honor to be part of the final pathfinder mission. But it's also bittersweet knowing the pathfinder company will be inactivated following a Feb. 24 ceremony on Fort Bragg.
The Army is inactivating its pathfinder units as part of a larger force transformation.
For families, one of the biggest challenges was keeping the secrecy of the mission.
Dana Whitney said the questions about her husband never stopped.
"'Where's he at? What's he doing?'" were common questions, she said. In response, she could say little more than, "'He's gone. I can't say.'"
Dana said families were even instructed not to put their soldier's rank on care packages sent overseas. They also had to be careful on social media.
"We had to tiptoe around what we said to people," she said. "It made it a little more stressful, but thankfully he was still able to talk to us."
As Dana waited, the couple's 4-year-old daughter, Ruby, made her father an early Valentine.
"I am excited, I am anxious, I am nervous -- everything rolled into one," Dana said. "I don't know if I can actually put it into words."
Nearby, Sara Boswell was anxiously waiting to reintroduce 5 1/2-month-old Leo to his helicopter pilot father, 1st Lt. Marcus Boswell.
Leo was 2 weeks old when his father left for Africa.
The last five months had been tiring, Sara said. But the family spoke often, and Sara said she was excited to show her husband how much their son has grown.
"He's safe. He's happy. I can't even think straight right now," she said. "I'm overwhelmingly proud of him."
Deloach's parents, John and Georgie of Chapin, South Carolina, said they were proud of what their son and his soldiers were able to accomplish, but even happier to have him home.
Georgie said her son was well-trained and confident, and she had no doubt the unit would return to Fort Bragg proudly.
She said the secrecy of the mission was a blessing in disguise -- the less she knew, the less she worried.
Waiting at Green Ramp with Deloach's wife, Rebecca, and their children, the family said they were excited to get their soldier back.
"What a beautiful day," John said. "We would love to have him 15 minutes away and see him every day, but we're prouder of what he does, what his family means to him and what he does for this country."
This article was originally featured on Military.com. Source link here - http://www.military.com/daily-news/2017/02/13/fort-bragg-soldiers-return-home-secretive-africa-mission.html