Photo: Brigadier Gen. Maria Britt, Georgia Army Guard command, shakes the hands of Soldiers from Springfield's Battery A, 1st Battalion, 118th Field Artillery, as they disembark the aircraft that brought them from Afghanistan to Hunter Army Airfield's Departure and Arrival Terminal.
Stepping off a chartered airliner early this morning, more than 100 members of Springfield's Battery A, 1st Battalion, 118th Field Artillery, began the last leg of their yearlong deployment to Afghanistan.
"You have no idea how great it is to be home," said Sgt. David Clark of Offerman. "Unless you've been there and back, you just don't realize how good it is to be back on Georgia soil."
This was the first group of Citizen-Soldiers redeploying to Georgia in the next two months. Arrival times for other returning flights, and dates for upcoming welcome home ceremonies are expected soon, but remain somewhat up in the air.
The Soldiers of Battery A are among the more than 2,000 members of Macon's 48th Infantry Brigade Combat (IBCT) who left in June of last year to support Operation Enduring Freedom. Their mission was to train and mentor the Afghan army and National Security Force so the Afghans can fully take on the role of protecting that war-torn country's citizens.
"I don't know that I can ever fully express how proud I am of these guys," said the unit's commander, Capt. Patrick Grover of Savannah. "From the lowest to the highest rank, they carried out every task and mission asked of them and continually made me and the Georgia Army Guard look good in the eyes of everyone they dealt with.
"If any one ever deserves credit for the success of our deployment, it's them, not me," he added.
After turning in weapons and other sensitive equipment at the terminal, the Guardsmen boarded buses waiting for them outside the airfield's main terminal, and headed for Fort Stewart in Hinesville. Marching onto the post's Cottrell Parade Field with Grove leading it, Battery A received a resounding welcome home from more than 200 family members, friends, fellow Soldiers and dignitaries such Brig. Gen. Maria Britt, Georgia Army Guard commander.
Stepping to the microphone, Britt welcomed the unit back, and then told its members how proud she and Maj. Gen. Terry Nesbitt, Georgia's Adjutant General, are of them.
"When we stop and think of how being born free is 'really an accident,' we realize that our staying free is paid for by our veterans, veterans such as yourselves," Britt told the Soldiers standing in formation before her.
"And just as we will always remember the eight who lost their lives during this deployment, we're also grateful to have all of you back safely with us," she added.
Britt then turned her remarks toward the families who crowed the grandstand behind her.
"You sacrificed as much as our Soldiers did, and yet you stepped up time and again to let them know you are always there for them in these challenging times," she said. "That love and support is so greatly appreciated and we ask, yes we know, that you keep it coming."
In no short order after Britt finished her remarks, the crowd rushed the formation, each family finding its Soldier, then hugging and holding on tight as if afraid that the homecoming would be short-lived.
That's the way it seemed to Rashedah Barringer of Columbus and her little girl Morgan, age 3. Frantically searching the formation, mother and daughter found what they were looking for among the sea of Army Combat Uniforms.
Running to her father, Morgan jumped up into Sgt. Joseph Barringer's arms, and hugged him with an intensity he had never known. Holding his little girl with one arm and holding his wife with the other, Joseph Barringer seemed to cringe, just a little.
"I really don't know what to say at this moment," the one-time business major from Columbus Technical College said. He'll be returning there to finish his degree once he's back home. "I'm excited and overwhelmed with the fact that I'm finally home. I just don't know what to say about it, other than I'm proud of who I am and what my unit has accomplished, but Lord am I glad that I'm home."
For little Morgan it's about having her father home and finally having him buy her the "princess dress" he promised her before he left.
"I'm going to be so pretty because daddy promised me he'd buy my princess dress and some shoes," she said, clinging to Joseph's neck.
by Sgt. 1st Class Roy Henry
Photos by Sgt. Jerry DeAvila and Sgt. 1st Class Roy Henry