All 250 soldiers attached to the Winder armory are now safe on Georgia soil and will return over the next few days to their families, their civilian lives, and a local landscape dotted with yellow ribbons and proudly waving American flags.
After 10 months in Afghanistan’s war zone, the soldiers from the armory’s Headquarters and Echo companies flew back on flights March 24-28 to Hunter Air Field in Savannah.
Capt. Nathan Wilson, who is a police officer in metro Atlanta and for the past year has served as the commander of the rear detachment manning the Winder armory, said the reunions of the soldiers and their families were very moving to watch.
The first group arrived in the middle of the night on March 24.
“Once they turned in their weapons, they were trucked to Cottrell Field at Fort Stewart where they were reunited with their families,” Wilson said.
“I was standing in the tree line. It’s an emotional experience, almost like something on TV. There are a lot of people wandering around, trying to find their loved ones, and then they see them, run up and give them kisses, jump up in their arms.
“It was a happy event even though it was 3 in the morning.”
The next flight arrived on the 26th, the third on the 27th, and the final flight arrived late Sunday afternoon, Wilson said.
When the last group arrived, the families were sitting in reviewing stands and could see the soldiers across the field getting into formation.
“The announcer was trying to get everybody riled up and to make some noise so they would move faster. A couple of kids’ voices came over the speakers saying, ‘Bring my daddy home!’ It’s fairly emotional when you hear that.”
Wilson said he asked several soldiers if it was good to be back.
“It was probably the most sincere ‘yes’ I’ve ever heard,” he said. “They were all very grateful to be home.”
He said the returning troops looked healthy.
“For the most part, they were in pretty good condition. They’ve been eating probably more healthily than they normally do and getting exercise. I noticed quite a few guys had lost some weight.”
The soldiers were to remain at Fort Stewart for six or seven days of demobilizing activities before returning to Winder by car or bus, Wilson said.
“It’s the final step before they are released back to regular Guard status. They are going through a series of classes and briefings and medical checks, learning about their VA benefits, getting reintegration training.”
The Georgia National Guard is providing buses to bring back those whose families did not make it to Savannah to pick them up.
However, because the partially filled buses will arrive at different times over four days, Wilson said there has been no way to plan a community greeting on the scale of what occurred last March when the units left for Mississippi and Afghanistan.
Instead, a celebration is being planned for sometime in June when the soldiers have to report for their first mandatory weekend drill.
“We have to give them time off between the time they come home and we can require them to come back for drill,” Wilson said.