U.S. Army Spc. Jessica Paige Threefingers went to Iraq a soldier and came home Saturday a warrior.
Threefingers, 21, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, arrived at Billings Logan International Airport Saturday afternoon to a crowd of about 75 well-wishers. A supply specialist with the 4th Infantry Division, Threefingers left Fort Hood, Texas, for Iraq early last April.
She joined the Army nearly three years ago and re-enlisted for another three while she was stationed in the town of Samarra in central Iraq. After a 10-day leave, Threefingers will return to Fort Hood and then go on to Fort Carson, Colo.
But Saturday Threefingers' focus was on family and friends who came to welcome her home for the first time in two years. As she descended the stairs near the baggage claim area, she was greeted by the high-pitched sound of women ululating.
Several people held up a long, narrow sign that read "Welcome home Jessica from family and the Parkview Care Center."
Once she reached ground level, she stood still as her uncle, Anthony Threefingers, wiped her with cloth to purify her. The purpose of the ceremony was to cleanse her from any residual negative images or events she may have brought back from Iraq.
Then the returning soldier, dressed in military fatigues, stared straight ahead, and the crowd remained silent as a semi-circle of seven men, members of the Kit Fox Society, honored Threefingers in song. Finally came the moment everyone had been waiting for.
Threefingers stepped forward and first embraced her younger sister, Salenna, for several seconds. Then, one after another, women of various ages stepped up and hugged Threefingers, some smiling, some in tears.
As greetings continued, Herbert Bear Chun Sr. climbed a couple of the steps and announced to the crowd that Threefingers was one of three Northern Cheyenne women to have served in Iraq. Bear Chun, an ordained herald for the tribe, also said Threefingers had come from a long line of soldiers on both sides of her family.
Her great-great-grandfather, he said, served as a scout for Gen. Nelson Miles, and her father's side of the family contained members of the elite Dog Soldiers. Bear Chun added that Threefingers' ancestors had served in "every war the United States had ever been involved in."
Threefingers will be honored May 8 in Birney in song and dance and with a feast, Anthony Threefingers said. At that time, he said, one of her uncles will give her a new Indian name, and she will be presented a war bonnet.
Taking a moment from her family, the soft-spoken soldier said she had left Iraq March 6 for Kuwait and then returned to Fort Hood on March 7. Of her time in Iraq, Threefingers said "sometimes it was scary, but you got used to it."
Enemy forces launched mortar rounds at the small compound where she lived and a few landed inside the secured area. As she chatted at the airport, a man she didn't know approached her and said, "I want to thank you for your service." Threefingers flashed him a shy smile.