By Diane Glidewell
A year in Afghanistan sounds like an eternity, but eventually a 12-month tour does run its course and it is time for the soldiers to return to their families and friends at home. For most of the National Guardsmen deployed, it even means a return to civilian jobs and lifestyles.
On Tuesday, March 9 the Atlanta South 75 Travel Center was the rest stop for over 400 soldiers on their way back to homes in Georgia. Ten huge tour buses with a Georgia Highway Patrol escort pulled off I-75 into Atlanta South carrying members of the 1st Squadron 108th Cavalry Regiment from Ft. Stewart back to their home units.
The 108th deployed for training on orders to Afghanistan in January 2009 and had now completed its assignment. The 1st Squadron, 108th Cavalry Regiment is the reconnaissance and surveillance element of the 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Georgia Army National Guard. Its focus in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan was training Afghan National Security Forces.
From Atlanta South, the buses split up to carry the returning troops home to Rome, Cedartown, Dalton, Calhoun, and Canton. Some families met their soldiers at Atlanta South or were traveling with the buses; there were private vehicles decorated with signs proclaiming, "I'm picking up my soldier! I love you." and "My Daddy Is Finally Home. We missed you."
"They called yesterday and told us they were coming through," said Bob Ryan of Atlanta South. "But we only expected three or four buses."
"Taco Bell was the most popular spot with the soldiers, and Subway was next," said Susan Ryan. "They all seemed very happy to be back in the U.S."
The 108th Cavalry lost four members from the squad during its Afghanistan deployment.
Local plans for a big "Welcome Home"
Plans for a community-wide display of patriotism to welcome back the Georgia Army National Guard 148th Battalion Bravo Company to its home at the Jackson National Guard Armory are proceeding. Plans include a parade through Jackson and a party for the troops and their families at the Exchange Club Fairgrounds a few blocks from the Armory.
The 148th is currently arriving home from its tour of duty in Afghanistan in waves. The local celebration is planned for Saturday, July 10 after all the soldiers have time to return to their stateside routines.
Starting time for festivities is 11 a.m. The parade route will take the soldiers from Zion Baptist Church on Mulberry Street, around the square and to a stage which will be provided by Central Georgia EMC. Veterans are encouraged to join the parade. All businesses along the route will be encouraged to decorate with yellow ribbons and various symbols of American patriotism.
"It's a chance to show our national pride," said Eddie Dumas, who is active on the committee planning the event. "I would like this to be one of the biggest events Jackson has seen, and so far that's what it's shaping up to be."
General Britt of the GANG will be the keynote speaker. Karen Waldrup, a recording artist out of Nashville, Tennessee, has agreed to donate her talent and time to entertain the troops and their families at the fairgrounds. The Georgia Defense Force is in charge of food preparation for the picnic for the military families. There will be a Kids Corner with activities for the soldiers' children.
The Jackson High School JROTC Color Guard will carry the flag in the parade. All public officials, including Governor Sonny Purdue, have been invited to participate. Local churches, businesses, organizations, and individuals are encouraged to get involved in this opportunity to show appreciation to the soldiers returning from Afghanistan. The public is also asked for input in planning the celebration.
"I've been bragging about the people in Jackson, and I know they'll back it up," said Dumas.
Even though many of the 148th Battalion Bravo Company do not live in Butts County, they do come here at least one weekend per month to drill and have become a part of our community through their GANG commitment.
To become involved in the "Welcome Home" plans, contact SFC Danny Salade at the National Guard Armory in Jackson or Eddie Dumas at firstname.lastname@example.org.