They’re home, finally. About 175 soldiers with the 530th Engineer Company, 92nd Engineer Battalion returned home Monday after a year-long combat tour in Afghanistan.
Hundreds of family members, friends and fellow soldiers waited for their return, filling the bleachers on both ends of the gymnasium at Fort Stewart’s Newman Fitness Center.
Wives cradled babies in their arms as children waving tiny American flags paraded in front of their moms and grandparents, eagerly awaiting the return of their heroes.
“I’m very excited,” said Sandy Placke, mother of Pfc. Zach Estes. “He’s been gone too long now. He came home for about two weeks, but that was six months ago, and it wasn’t long enough.”
Placke waited for her son’s arrival with her daughter-in-law, Roxanne Estes, who cradled 2-year-old Michael in her arms. Originally from Kansas, she said they were stationed at Fort Stewart for about a year before her husband, a combat engineer, was deployed.
“Basically, I think he finds bombs and destroys them,” she said but admitted she isn’t that familiar what her husband does for the Army. She was just grateful to finally have him back home again.
All six of Staff Sgt. Grady Moss’ children, his wife, LaShaunda Moss, and the children’s grand-aunt, Crystal Clark, waited for his return. Clark said she had just helped her niece move from Mississippi back to the Fort Stewart area two weeks ago in preparation for her nephew-in-law’s return.
The children, including Taenosha, 13; Tearaney, 10; Zaus, 8; Zariyah, 7; Zion, 5; and Taylor, 3, stood near the doorway where they’d been told their father would march through when his unit arrived. Taenosha and Tearaney, the two oldest, frequently peeked outside the door to see if they could catch a glimpse of him.
Finally, the troops arrived and assembled outside by the doorway. Everyone was asked to welcome the soldiers as the unit marched inside and began to assemble in formation. Once assembled, all attending stood for the Pledge of Allegiance. Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Kenneth Boggs greeted the unit.
After everyone sang the Marne and the Army songs, they were told to welcome their loved ones.
Wives and girlfriends rushed into the formation of soldiers, having already singled out their soldier. The returning service members lifted their relatives off the floor as they kissed and hugged them.
The scene was one of organized chaos though as each soldier soon led his family members outside to retrieve baggage and military equipment. In little more than 15 or 20 minutes, the returning soldiers, family and friends were outside, helping to load bags into cars, ready to go the rest of the way home.