'They Are Home': Guard Unit Returns
Amanda Chipps stood in front of the National Armory in Southern Pines on Tuesday morning clutching a bouquet of flowers accented with a small American flag.
"I can smell the diesel from the buses," she said with a smile.
Chipps was one of about 150 family members, friends and -others from the community who gathered at the armory to -welcome home about 50 members of Company C 252nd Combined Arms Battalion.
Minutes after Chipps made her declaration, family members cheered and waved as two buses carrying the soliders home rolled down Morganton Road.
Their arrival was the culmination of a long 14 months for family and friends.
"It's been a roller coaster ride," said Teresa McLean, "but I am glad to be part of this ride, especially now because it's over. They are home."
McLean, along with Chipps, had been instrumental in organizing a welcome home for the guardsmen. McLean's son and Chipps' husband are members of the battalion.
Eighty-seven soldiers from -several states, including North Carolina, are serving in the battalion, which left for Iraq in April after four months of training.
"We have a few more yet to come and I'll be here for them too," McLean said
There were plenty of hugs, kisses, tears and thank yous when the soliders disembarked from the buses to a throng of screaming family members.
"I can't believe they are finally home," one woman said as the buses pulled up to the armory.
Family members, friends and others from the community gathered at the National Guard Armory in Southern Pines Tuesday to welcome home about 50 members of Company C 252nd Combined Arms Battalion. The photos were taken by staff photographer Glenn M. Sides.
It was a sentiment shared by many.
Many of the soldiers' children were among the crowd. Several children were born- while their fathers were deployed. Many clutched their fathers' necks, holding on as if make sure they wouldn't get away again.
"It's OK to cry," one solider told his daughter.
"She remembers me," another soldier said to his wife as he carried his daughter out of the Armory.
This is the second tour of duty for many of the members of the National Guard unit.
Family members decided they wanted to do something to honor their return, so they had friends, family and community members sign four banners and a flag to present the battalion.
Since early November McLean and Chipps have diligently organized the welcome home. They gathered signatures from family members on several banners, and even organized a two-day event where community members could sign a banner. In all they collected more than 500 signatures and well-wishes on four banners.
One banner features handprints from 19 children of the soliders.
On Tuesday, those banners hung in the armory. Signs, balloons, an American flag and red, white and blue ribbons decorated the outside of the armory.
McLean said the last few weeks have been especially difficult, because of the anticipation that the unit would return sometime in January. She said she has been on the phone quite a lot in that span.
"I had thousands of calls this month," McLean said. "I am definitely going to go over (on cell phone minutes) this month, but that's OK. It is definitely worth it."
Family and friends got the news late Monday evening that their loved ones would be returning home Tuesday. The two buses transporting the soldiers left Georgia at 7 a.m. and arrived just before noon.
Family members began arriving at the armory hours before the anticipated return.
The American Red Cross brought food and beverages for the soldiers and their families courtesy of Panera Bread, Chick-fil-A and Mac's Breakfast Anytime.
Contact Tom Embrey at (910) 693-2484 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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