It was an emotional and patriotic welcome home for about 100 soldiers Tuesday as the 48th Brigade Special Troops Battalion were escorted home to the Georgia National Guard Armory.
People gathered at the Bulloch County Courthouse, along Main streets and at points along Ga. 67 and U.S. 301 South, as well as at the Armory, some holding flags or wearing red, white and blue, cheering and waving as patrol cars with sirens and flashing blue lights led the way.
It has been just over a year since the battalion left for Afghanistan.
Korean War veteran Bill Akers was one of the first to pick a spot near the armory. He stood next to his white Ford truck, decorated with red, white and blue pin striping and a patriotic flag-inspired bug guard.
"It cost $100 from Cabelas, and $25 goes to disabled veterans," he said. Akers was there to welcome the soldiers home because "I support our armed forces 100 percent. They need it, because our politicians aren't supporting them, unfortunately."
People waiting at the Armory heard the sirens before they saw the motorcade appear. Several Bulloch County Sheriff's Department patrol cars, Statesboro Police patrol cars and an unmarked car rolled past the crowd, made tight U-turns and parked facing the approaching soldiers, with officers and deputies exiting their cars and standing to greet the returning troops.
As the soldiers arrived in private vehicles, many blew horns to greet those waiting, and a few soldiers who had also been waiting on the troops' return yelled "thank you" as the deputies and officers left.
Soldiers gathered together with friends and family outside the armory, hugging, laughing and crying with joy. Janie Hendrix watched as her son-in-law, Todd Olsen, who is an advanced patrol officer with the Statesboro Police Department, spoke with others.
"At least he is safe and my granddaughter can stop asking of something's going to happen to him," she said.
Olsen's 7-year-old daughter Ashley clung to him as he held her, grip tight as she smiled adoringly at her father. When someone asked Olsen how he felt about being home, she quickly answered for him: "Good!"
"There are no words to describe it," Olsen said. "This is my fourth return."
"It's my second," Ashley chimed in. When someone asked her how she felt, she said "Excellent!"
Shawna Snyder, just returning from Afghanistan, stood beside her husband Trevor, who has been home a year since his deployment to Iraq. "I feel wonderful," she said. "I don't know if I can describe it any other way Now I have time I can spend with my husband."
Trevor said he was ecstatic" about being reunited with his wife, and the couple planned a celebration at Olive Garden.
Lt. Col. Thomas Bright, who led the battalion, beamed as he joked with his soldiers and enjoyed his own share of being welcomed home.
This deployment to Afghanistan was his "first combat deployment," he said. The battalion "is a great team to be with. I was absolutely confident in their capabilities - they did a great job."
During this deployment, the battalion was charged with training Afghan soldiers.
"It's great to be home," he said."We flew in St. Patrick's Day night, and I got up the next morning and ran on my old dirt road."
Bright said he feels the situation in Iraq is "stabilizing," and said he sees a lot of success in Afghanistan. "I'm a glass is half-full kind of guy, and I trust things will keep getting better."
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.