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Ceremony welcomes Charlie Company returning from Afghanistan
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AUDIO SLIDESHOW from Charlie Company's welcome home celebrations.

Troops get job direction after homecoming celebration

Having already spent nearly three months back on U.S. soil didn’t seem to spoil Saturday’s homecoming celebration for Gainesville-based Charlie Company.

The Georgia Army National Guard unit, together for the first time since its Afghanistan deployment, was greeted by spectators shouting “Thank you!” as they marched from the National Guard Armory on Alta Vista Road to the Lakeshore Mall off Pearl Nix Parkway.

People lined John Morrow and Pearl Nix parkways, waving U.S. flags at the guardsmen as they passed by in their camouflage uniforms.

The troops paraded under American flags hoisted high by two Gainesville fire engines at the Belk entrance to the mall and made their way to main entrance, finally arriving for the ceremony recognizing their year of service in the war-torn country.

“Good to see you back here alive and well,” said Chaplain Maj. Harvey Gainer, who led prayers during a one-hour ceremony inside the mall. “I’m so proud of you.”

An array of speakers and patriotic activities filled the ceremony, including a presentation of colors by the Hall County Sheriff’s Office and remarks by Lt. Col. Matt Smith, 1st Battalion commander of the National Guard’s 121 Infantry (Light) Regiment, 48th Infantry Brigade.

“Thank you for coming out today to recognize our soldiers,” Smith told the audience. “... Among all our communities that our armories are in, Gainesville is consistently the most supportive of Charlie Company and our soldiers.”

Operation Patriot’s Call, a local military support group, sponsored the celebration.

After the event, Charlie Company marched back to the armory using Pearl Nix Parkway and Jones Drive.

Lunch was later served to the soldiers and their families, and a job fair was held.

Two Charlie Company soldiers, brothers Danny and Jimmy Wright, said they appreciated the homecoming celebration.

Jimmy Wright of Flowery Branch said that since returning to the U.S., “I’m just trying to relax. (Afghanistan) is definitely different. There’s nothing like being in the U.S.”

Charlie Company troops began returning home in late March, coming home in several waves, spending their first days back in debriefing at Fort Stewart near Savannah.

The unit was charged with responsibility for all Afghan National Security Force development in the Paktika province in southeast Afghanistan.

“They had to address issues, solve political problems, answer questions from local government tribal leaders — things are not in the usual job description of an infantryman,” said Capt. Jeff Moran, the company’s commander.

Overall, “Charlie Company did a great job and I’m privileged to be their commander,” he said at the ceremony.

“Our mission had its challenges, but it could have been a lot more difficult if it were not for the incredible support of the friends and families who consistently supported us through the past year and a half.”

The event ended with a ceremonial passing of a guidon, or military identification flag, to anticipate the return of the Gainesville-based 802nd Ordnance Company, a U.S. Army Reserve unit deployed in Afghanistan through 2010.

“In addition to continuing support for Charlie Company, we’ll be concentrating our efforts to support the 802nd Ordnance during and after (its) deployment,” said Don Landrum of Patriot’s Call.