Rock Hill welcomes home soldier wounded in Afghanistan

jzou@heraldonline.comAugust 4, 2013 

The road along Bonnybrook Circle in Rock Hill was studded with little American flags staked into lawns and mailboxes adorned with yellow ribbons. Star-shaped balloons wavered in the light breeze on a balmy Sunday afternoon.

Then came the sounds of a fire engine, followed by the rumbling of hundreds of motorcycles and a cheering crowd.

Army Spc. Michael Millwood had returned home.

More than 100 friends, family and community members waited anxiously for the arrival of Millwood, who was returning home for the first time since an injury in Afghanistan shattered the femur bone in his leg earlier this year.

“He’s a lucky boy,” said his grandfather, Mike Bailey, 69. Bailey and his wife welcomed their grandson, along with his wife and kids, into the yard of Baileys’ home, which had been set up with lawn chairs and tents.

Dressed in a collared shirt and slacks, the 24-year-old Millwood was escorted by an array of military groups and local emergency personnel, including the recently returned Rock Hill-based Army National Guard 178th Engineer battalion, Patriot Guard Riders of South Carolina, Rolling Thunder of York County and Fire & Iron of York County.

The event began with a group prayer led by Bailey, who addressed the tearful crowd. “I may get emotional, but bear with me,” he began. “I’ve been praying since March to bring him home.”

Holding onto a cane for support, Millwood sat down in a rocking chair on the lawn as friends and family greeted him one-by-one. Many hadn’t seen Millwood since he left for Afghanistan in March. After being shot, he ended up at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland.

“I am just grateful that he came home on his two feet and not a box,” said his aunt, Ibera Varner, 82.

Also present was state Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, who thanked Millwood for his service. “I couldn’t count that many motorcycles,” he joked of the veteran’s noisy homecoming.

In total, there were 250 motorcycles, according to Leanne Presley – a family friend of the Millwoods – who helped organize the event. Presley’s husband had also served overseas and recently returned home.

“He’s almost like a son to me,” Presley said of Millwood. “I’m glad to see him home safe.”

Some of the bikers remained at the event after the escort, like Steve Hack, 54, of the Patriot Guard Riders.

“When we get a chance to do a happy event, we jump on it,” Hack said. His group primarily attends military funerals.

Millwood said the toughest part has been being unable to do the things he’s used to doing as a father, like holding his children. He has two children, a 4-year-old daughter named Aliyah and 6-month-old son also named Michael.

Millwood said he’s also still adjusting back to civilian life. “It’s been hard to deal with the complete change in worlds,” he said.

His wife, DeAnna, has stayed with him throughout the recovery process, which included a brief stay at a hospital in Germany following the ambush that injured Millwood.

Previously, Millwood had served in Iraq. His most recent stint in Afghanistan with the Third Infantry Division Special Troop Battalion was brief.

He had only been on the job for three months as a combat engineer, clearing bombs and explosives, when he was shot in the leg by enemy fire.

“Physical therapy still sucks,” Millwood said. “But it’s been going better than I expected.”

“It’s been tremendous progress,” DeAnna said of her husband’s recovery. Doctors inserted a metal rod to replace the femur, but Millwood still has a lot of physical therapy and potential surgery ahead of him.

Millwood and his wife will divide their next two weeks in Spartanburg and Rock Hill, where their parents live, but will head back to a military apartment complex across from Walter Reed hospital afterward.

It’s expected that Millwood will spend the next two years living at the complex, according to Bailey.

Millwood’s mother, Dara Millwood, 46, said she’s been overwhelmed by the community support the family’s received. The family has received donations, gift baskets and even a three-night-stay for Millwood and DeAnna at the Holiday Inn.

“Today is one of the happiest days in my life,” said Dara. “People have just been so good to him.”

Millwood said he’s keeping his options open when it comes to the next step – whether it’s continuing his military career or trying something different in the medical field.

For now, Millwood said, he’s focused on his recovery and his family.

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Jie Jenny Zou•  803-329-4062

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