By Ed Brock
Army Spc. Jeff Henry stood in his desert fatigues receiving hug after hug from family and neighbors.
Signs and banners were hung around his Morrow neighborhood, but the highest concentration of signs by far was in the yard of his mother Elena Rowell's house.
"I'm overjoyed, overjoyed," Rowell said. "My only son. I wanted him back safely."
Since January, Henry has been serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom and early Tuesday morning he returned, along with other members of the 3rd Infantry, to their base at Fort Stewart near Savannah. His stepfather Barry Rowell and 15-year-old sister Nicole Rowell drove down to pick him up and on the ride home after a brief ceremony at the base Henry told them some stories about America's most recent war.
"I can kind of feel for him because I was over there for the first one," Barry Rowell said.
The homecoming seemed a long time in coming, said 22-year-old Henry who has been in the Army for two years and served in a military intelligence unit during the Iraq operation.
"We had hopes of getting home if the situation had cooled down," Henry said. "I think after the war is probably worse than the war because you never know where it's coming from."
His mother was not so eager to hear her son's stories.
"I'm a mother. I was scared," Elena Rowell said.
Rowell seemed almost reluctant to share Henry with the parade of neighbors who stopped in the street to welcome him home. She took every opportunity to announce "That's my son."
The signs in her yard showed pictures of food and inquired "Are you hungry?" Another sign read "We missed you. Glad the Iraqis did, too."
Henry hadn't slept the night before, but he said he was used to that. He was in Baghdad just before coming home, and while many of the people were friendly he said the soldiers always had to be cautious.
The heat and the desert environment were almost as difficult as the danger of attack.
"A sandstorm is probably the worst thing you can go through," Henry said.
There were some comforts in the midst of the combat.
"I loved the Burger King in Baghdad," Henry said, referring to the fast food booth set up for American soldiers in the captured capital. "The last two weeks I was in Baghdad I went to the Burger King every day."
Henry's other sister, 14-year-old Melanie, saw her brother briefly Tuesday morning before heading off to school.
"She stayed up all night waiting for him," Nicole Rowell said.
Henry said he had to return to Fort Stewart on Wednesday but plans to come right back home this weekend.
Other soldiers from Clayton and Henry counties are making their way home from Iraq and Kuwait. Army Reserve 345th Military Intelligence Battalion soldier Staff Sgt. Cynthia Burns, 44, has been back from Camp Doha in Kuwait since June but until Sunday she was still at Fort Gordon in Augusta.
The 11-year Reserve veteran was deployed in July 2002.
Now back home in Locust Grove, Burns has been reunited with her two children and two of her five grandchildren.
"With the youngest one it was actually the first time I saw her since the day she was born," Burns said. "I actually got to see her and hold her."
Now Burns is looking for another civilian job to replace the one she lost while deployed due to changes in the company. For the next two months she'll still be on military pay.
"Right now I'm enjoying a little bit of relaxation," Burns said.