Anybody who doesn't wear a military uniform must be wondering - why aren't the Fort Mill soldiers who returned to the states over the weekend from Afghanistan home hugging wives and kids already?
Combat veterans say the answer is simply that soldiers need a few days to check their bodies, check their equipment, and check their states of mind. Most importantly, these soldiers have given, received, and carried out orders for months involving life and death situations. They did what was told, without question. But wives and children are not fellow soldiers. A family is not a platoon.
"These soldiers are coming from a war where they were on alert, at the ready, every hour of every day, so they have to get ready to go back into family life where how they will operate is totally different," said Master Sgt. John Wright of the S.C. Army National Guard 178th Battalion headquarters at the Rock Hill armory and a veteran of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. "Home isn't like Afghanistan. It takes a while to adjust."
The 105-member 1222nd Engineer Company from Fort Mill was in Afghanistan for 10 months clearing roads of explosives before arriving at Fort Dix, N.J. a few days ago. The unit is scheduled to fly to Columbia on Friday, arriving at 2:30 p.m.
The few days in between are crucial to assessing each soldier's physical, mental, even financial and social well-being before that soldier heads home, said Wright, who handles operations and training for soldiers at five area armories.
"That job they had during this deployment was a tense job where the soldiers were under intense pressure," Wright said.
Soldiers confined at Fort Dix are anxious to get home, weary of barracks and chow lines and all the rest of military rituals, combat veterans said, but the few days of down time is crucial. Staff Sgt. Bo Beam, an Afghanistan veteran at the 178th headquarters at Rock Hill's armory, said the time between arriving home and getting back into regular life is for "decompressing" from the war.
During five days of time between arriving at a military base and release to families, soldiers have physical assessments done and document any injuries that happened during deployment. They go over financial and military documentation because during deployment many soldiers had money obligations handled through bank drafts. They talk about being patient with family members and friends at home.
"Every soldier changes overseas, and families have had to live for months or longer without you," said Maj. Coral Dobson of the 178th, an Afghanistan veteran. "Soldiers can't expect to come home and find everything stopped while they were gone."
So soldiers will have to wait until Friday to see those they love. Wives and daughters, sons and mothers, even fathers, will have to wait for that hug. But Wright, the twice-deployed master sergeant, as tough a guy as there is, said it is all worth it. "That's' the moment you wait for," Wright said. "You get to see your kids again. But you have to be ready to be home and love your family - that's what these few days mean."
Want to say thanks?
The soldiers of the Fort Mill-based Army National Guard 1222nd Sappers Combat Engineers are scheduled to return to South Carolina Friday after deployment to Afghanistan.
The Herald and heraldonline.com plan to publish thank-you notes and messages from readers to these hometown heroes.
All notes must be 50 words or less, and sent via e-mail by noon today to firstname.lastname@example.org.