Nearly a year ago to the day, family and friends cheered and wiped away tears as buses carrying their loved ones pulled away from the National Guard Armory and Gainesville’s Charlie Company began the long trek to Afghanistan.
Wednesday night, nearly 100 reservists in the unit, which is part of Georgia’s 48th Infantry Brigade, were scheduled to return to the U.S., arriving first at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah and then heading by bus to nearby Fort Stewart.
A welcome home ceremony is planned before the reservists are released to their families at the base.
Donna Marshall of Forsyth County has longed for this day since her husband, Spc. Jason Marshall, climbed on the bus at the armory off Alta Vista Road.
“Right now, I feel like a little kid at their birthday party,” she said earlier in the week. “I’m just counting down the hours and minutes until I get to see him. I’m very excited.”
Charlie Company is part of the 48th’s 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry, charged with responsibility for all Afghan National Security Force development in the Paktika province in southeast Afghanistan.
The 1-121st also includes units from Winder, Covington, Lawrenceville and Milledgeville.
Retired Lt. Col. Ken Baldowski, a Georgia Department of Defense spokesman, said Tuesday that Charlie Company was set to arrive at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday. He has said that times could change with little notice.
Marshall, a preschool teacher in Forsyth County, was counting on Wednesday, having stayed since the weekend at a hotel close to the base.
The past year “has really been hard,” she said.
“With close friends and friends that I’ve made through the (company’s Family Readiness Group) ... it’s been a lot easier to cope with,” said
Marshall, whose one-year wedding anniversary came and went in January with her husband gone.
“It’s taken a lot of prayer and people being there for you.”
Gainesville resident Kim Walker, whose husband, Spc. Michael Walker, has been with Charlie Company for 3 1/2 years, also is in Savannah waiting for the reservists’ arrival.
“I am very anxious, pretty much pacing the floor,” she said, adding that she won’t stop worrying about her husband until they’re face to face again.
The past year has been challenging, especially caring for the couple’s six children -- three boys and three girls, ages 3 to 13.
“Without my family and friends, I would have never made it,” Walker said. “Even though he was gone, he would try to be there for me as much as he could through e-mail and phone when he had the opportunity, just letting me know that soon it’s going to be over.
“The encouragement from him was great.”
After his return, Walker said, “We’re going to take a family vacation."
"After that, he is going to go back to school," she said. "I haven’t decided what I’m going to do. I’m sort of up in the air about that.”
Marshall said that she and her husband plan to visit family they haven’t seen in a long while and otherwise “spend a lot of time at home and getting used to him being in the groove of being home.”
Operation Patriot’s Call, a group formed several years ago to support the reserve unit’s family at home during deployment, is planning a homecoming celebration for June 5, the unit’s first drill weekend after deployment.
The event could feature high school bands and speakers, among other highlights. Plans also have included a parade from the National Guard Armory to nearby Lakeshore Mall for a ceremony there.
Patriot’s Call has been busy the past year, said Ron Kellner, one of its members.
“We’ve helped out families with utility bills and some other financial (issues),” he said.