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Flowery Branch councilwoman returning from Afghanistan
Neighbors tie yellow ribbons around trees to welcome Richards home
JoAnne Oncea and Abbey Watson, 9, neighbors of Flowery Branch Councilwoman Tara Richards, tie yellow ribbons on trees along Fireside Lane in honor of Richards’ return home after being deployed to Afghanistan for six months.

FLOWERY BRANCH — Excitement is building among residents on Tara Richards’ street in the Sterling on the Lake subdivision.

Friends and neighbors are eagerly awaiting her return from Afghanistan, where she has been deployed for the past six months.

They spent this weekend tying yellow ribbons on trees along Fireside Drive.

“It’s a commitment not only to leave the family and kids and all that, but to serve the country,” said Bill Oncea, Richards’ across-the-street neighbor. “I don’t know that I could do it.”

In the middle of her first four-year term on the Flowery Branch City Council, Richards was called to deployment as part of the 628th Civil Engineer Flight at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta. She is a captain in the U.S. Air Force Reserves.

A civil engineer by trade, she had to learn how to fire an M4 carbine and M9 semiautomatic pistol.

In an interview just before she left, Richards said, “Leaving the kids will be the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”

She and her husband, Mike, are raising two children, ages 2 and 4.

Mike Richards picked up his wife early Sunday from Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina, and they plan to be back in Flowery Branch today.

The family is “super, super excited” to have her back in the household, her husband said from North Carolina in a phone interview Sunday afternoon.

He said Tara is “doing well — she’s just tired. She’s been all over, flying on planes” on her return to the U.S.
Tara has become something of a role model on her street, said neighbor Brian Watson.

“It’s important for the kids to see what it’s like to serve your country,” he said.

“She definitely has a dedication to serving her country and the community,” said JoAnne Oncea, Bill’s wife. “She’s very proud to show her involvement.”

Joanne and Melanie Watson, Brian’s wife, organized the yellow ribbons effort, and they expect that neighbors will throw Richards a welcome-home party once she gets settled with her family.

“We can’t wait to have her home,” Melanie said. “It’s not the same without her.”

Mayor Mike Miller said he expects that Richards will be back in her council chair at 6 p.m. Thursday, the first of two regularly scheduled meetings in September.

He said he plans to respect Richards’ wishes not to have too much attention shed on her return.

“That’s her personality,” Miller said. “I think we all appreciate her ... and we will thank her for her service, but we’ll keep (her return) low-key.”

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