Sgt. Tyson Two Two stood on a war blanket provided by his family, a traditional Northern Cheyenne Tribe war bonnet perfectly complementing his dress blues, as drummers and singers welcomed him home.
Saturday afternoon in the baggage claim lobby of Billings Logan International Airport, Two Two, 24, a sergeant in the United States Marine Corps and member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, was welcomed home from a seven-month tour in Iraq by about 50 family members and friends from the Northern Cheyenne reservation.
"I knew something was going on today because they asked me to come in uniform," the 2002 Colstrip High grad said with a smile while surveying the crowd gathered at the airport in his honor. "It feels great to be back. It's been a long time."
Two Two was in Iraq from April to October this year as a Marine transport mechanic, supporting combat security teams at Al Asad Air Base, in the towns of Fallujah and Ramadi and along the Jordanian and Syrian borders.
The power and emotion of his homecoming ceremony, which lasted nearly 30 minutes, could be felt throughout the lobby from the moment Two Two appeared at the top of the stairs leading down from the concourse. As soon as the brim of his white cap bobbed into view, a few quick whispers of "there he is" moved through the crowd and a few elder Northern Cheyenne members began singing a slow, methodical chant of prayer, healing and welcome.
A war blanket for Two Two was laid on the floor to stand on during the ceremony, another was draped around his shoulders and family members replaced his Marine Corps dress cap with a feathered war bonnet as a small circle of drummers thumped a steady rhythm in the background.
Two Two's father, Vince Two Two Sr., said the war blankets are handed down in families and given to returning warriors to help ward off bad dreams from war demons and comfort them while they sleep. The war bonnet, he said, helps usher in change.
"We know them as soldiers when they go in (to war)," Vince Two Two explained. "When they come back, they are warrior-soldiers."
After the presentation, the crowd - most of whom made the two-hour drive to Billings from Two Two's hometown of Lame Deer on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation - lined up to hug him and welcome him home. Even onlookers deplaning from flights stopped to watch, and a few thanked Two Two for his service.
Most of the time, Two Two stood stoic and stone-faced, but once family members started hugging him, especially the younger ones, the stern look crumbled, briefly, into one of teary-eyed happiness.
"It's a big relief that he's home," his mother, Mary Ann Bearcomesout, said. "I was worried about him when he was gone."
Two Two's uncle, Charles Bearcomesout, is also a Marine Corps veteran, having served in the early 1960s. He said that with Two Two's return, family and friends can help him adjust to life back in America. Much of the ceremony - including the singers and drummers and a ceremonial dance - was designed to cleanse Two Two and help him recover from any spiritual and mental wounds he may have received, and a sweat lodge ceremony is being held in Lame Deer today to pray and let him tell his story.
"People who have been in combat can change," Charles Bearcomesout said. "We have to become aware of that. That's why we included the medicine (singers) - to help with the healing process."
Two Two - who joined the Marines four years ago and has a brother, Uriah Two Two, serving his third tour with the Army in Iraq - said he is looking forward to the chance to relax and catch up with friends and family. He said that "things are starting to look better in Iraq" and that he plans on becoming a recruiter for the Marines soon.
"I'm glad to be back and still serving this country," he said.
Vince Two Two expressed similar feelings, saying he can already see that his son has learned valuable lessons from his service.
"I'm very proud of him, of his achievement, of what he's making of himself," he said. "These personal traits he's gained of respect and honor, for his country, for his people and for tradition - he's gotten to look in from the outside. He was always looking out from the inside before.
"There's been a quiet, empty loneliness since he left, waiting to get a call saying I may have lost my son. But today, I rejoice and thank God he's come home."
Contact Zach Benoit at firstname.lastname@example.org or 657-1357.