Sgt. David Jeremy Clark scooped up his 3-year-old son, Logan, despite a back injury suffered during a car bombing as about 100 soldiers from the 48th Infantry Brigade arrived home to a rousing crowd at Fort Stewart. The troops spent nearly a year in Afghanistan — the brigade’s second deployment in five years.
“It’s a lot better than I even thought,” the 29-year-old sergeant said of the homecoming, tears streaming as his young sons wrapped their arms around his knees. “I’ve been ready to see these two.”
Theirs was the first flight home for more than 3,000 Georgia Army National Guard troops who deployed last year to help train Afghan police and security forces. The rest will return in the coming weeks, with the final group expected in April.
Community organizers in Cedartown are planning a parade next month, for a date to be determined. Soldiers with Delta Company are expected to return to their post in Cedartown between March 3-6.
Soldiers will arrive in groups by plane. The first soldiers home arrived just before 2 a.m. Tuesday.
Despite the early hour, the citizen-soldiers were greeted by loved ones. They were rushed by spouses, children and parents with kisses, tears and bear hugs after the troops marched in formation toward their reunion on the parade grounds at Fort Stewart. The Army post is 40 miles southwest of Savannah.
“It’s been tough. He’s my first born,” Doreatha Moore of Ellabell said of her strapping son, Sgt. Marcus Smith, whose photos were plastered on five poster-board signs his family made for his return.
Smith, a 27-year-old student at Georgia Southern University, stood beaming while surrounded by his mother and younger sisters.
“It’s like words don’t describe it,” he said. “It’s great — clean air, pine trees and home-cooked food.”
The 48th Brigade is made up of citizen-soldiers from across Georgia — truck drivers and teachers, factory workers and policemen. Now, many of them are two-time war veterans. The brigade also deployed to Iraq in 2005, with Clark among them.
Clark, an Offerman resident who drives a logging skidder when he’s not on military duty, had a close call several weeks ago. A car bomb exploded at the gate of a U.S. military base in Kabul where he was serving, and the blast threw him against a wall and injured his back.
Roadside bombs killed most of the eight brigade soldiers who died during the deployment, said Georgia National Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Ken Baldowski. But the number of casualties was far fewer than when the brigade lost 26 soldiers in Iraq five years ago.
More recently, five of the brigade’s soldiers were injured Feb. 11 by a suicide bomber at a U.S. military base near the Pakistani border.
The soldiers’ names haven’t been released, but Baldowski said three of the injured had returned to duty. The other two were returning to the U.S. to finish their recovery.
Jolisa Brooks of Savannah said she tried to push the dangers from her mind after her husband, Staff Sgt. Terry Brooks, deployed. But she said his safe return was a relief.
“When you say goodbye to them, there’s the sense it might be the last time I ever talk to him,” Brooks said.
Sandra Lampp of Reidsville was also relieved to see her husband, Spc. Joel Lampp, after spending the last year feeding their 40 goats and mending fences single-handedly on their 3-acre farm.
The extra chores seemed forgiven as she wept in her husband’s arms. And Joel Lampp, a Wal Mart support manager, said he was ready to take his share of the load.
“I’ve got a lot to catch up on when I get home,” he said.
Note: Russ Bynum has covered the military in Georgia since 2001.