Gainesville-based Charlie Company returned home safely Thursday night from a 9-month deployment to Afghanistan.
The unit’s 60-plus soldiers, who are part of the Georgia Army National Guard's 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, were dismissed to families after a ceremony at 11 p.m. Sept. 26 at Fort Stewart near Savannah.
“I rested well last night,” brigade commander Col. Matthew D. Smith said Friday, Sept. 27.
Thursday’s return was the last of 2,100 48th Brigade soldiers to return from deployment.
“In terms of combat forces, everybody is out of harm’s way,” Smith said.
Charlie Company, which is based at 153 Alta Vista Road, has been in Afghanistan since January. Area residents cheered them in a big sendoff Nov. 26, when they left Gainesville High School in buses for pre-mission training.
The soldiers’ mission was to improve the Afghan army, said the unit’s commander, Capt. John Whitmire, a Flowery Branch native, in an interview before deployment last year.
U.S. forces have been involved in Afghanistan since 2001 — or after 9/11 — in what has become America’s longest war.
As the Afghans take over militarily, “we’re taking a step back,” Whitmire said. “We’re doing advising, primarily. We’re handing over the reins and giving them the ability (to operate) on their own.”
On Thursday, the soldiers arrived by a Delta Air Lines plane at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, then were bused to Fort Stewart, Smith said.
“The families were already present in the bleachers on the main parade field,” he said. “(A welcome home ceremony) becomes the shortest military ceremony you’ll ever see, because the generals don’t want to be between the soldiers and their families.”
Members of Charlie Company’s Family Readiness Group, a support group made up of the soldiers’ spouses, spent time earlier this year preparing for their loved ones’ return this fall, making signs with such messages as “Welcome home my brave Daddy!” and “Welcome home Papaw.”
Molly Nigro, whose husband, Sgt.1st Class Nick Nigro, is part of Charlie Company said in a July interview that the soldiers’ return home is a “redeployment” — one that requires an adjustment period.
“We’ve been posting articles (for Family Readiness members) about reconnecting with your spouse and children,” she said.
A formal Gainesville homecoming for the soldiers may not happen.
“If there is (one), it won’t include a lot of the guys,” Nigro said earlier this month. “A lot of us are being shifted around.”