In Indian Land and Chester, Rock Hill and Fort Mill, fear froze the women.
The wives and the mothers of the 178th.
All Hayley Tindall in Indian Land with a 6-year-old son at home heard Thursday was that a soldier from the 178th serving in Afghanistan was dead.
"Is this one mine?" she thought to herself as the minutes crawled by but the answers didn't come.
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Bonnie Hoagland in Chester, with two sons in Afghanistan in the 178th, got one phone call after another starting late Wednesday. Her husband, Chris, in the 178th himself but not in Afghanistan, got calls. They called others.
"Horrible, the wait, the thoughts," Bonnie Hoagland said.
Finally on Thursday, the word started to get out through the wife-and-mother grapevine who the soldier was. Then, at 8:17 p.m. Thursday, the Army said officially that a 37-year-old electrician and father of three sons, with a wife he had been with since he was a high school football star outside Spartanburg, was dead. His name was Sgt. Shawn Fitzgerald Hill. He was 178th from Wellford, but not York County, Chester County or Lancaster County 178th.
But still, 178th.
What that means is tears and sorrow -- because somebody in the family is dead.
That is what these wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are at these hundreds of area homes. Hoping and praying you never get the death call, and crying with joy when the call comes that the death isn't yours.
Then, the immediate sorrow for the wife and children who you have never met but are just like you and your family. Now husbandless, or fatherless, or both.
The official name of the unit is the S.C. Army National Guard 178th Combat Engineer Battalion, with headquarters in Rock Hill and additional armories in Fort Mill, Timmonsville and Wellford on the other side of Spartanburg. Many in the 178th had been deployed since April with the 218th Brigade that has almost 2,000 South Carolina guardsmen in Afghanistan.
But they are scattered throughout Afghanistan doing different tasks. Not all the men are in the same place. Some, such as Tammi Kimbrell's Rock Hill husband, may not know yet because they haven't called home to say they're alive. Tammi Kimbrell read about the death in the paper Friday.
"I am so sorry for this family," she said. "The wife. The kids."
Many in the 178th, including hundreds from the 178th Combat Engineers and 178th Field Artillery units, had been to Iraq on previous deployments. Like Shawn Hill, that electrician from Wellford who survived Iraq before Afghanistan killed him.
Somehow, until then, no soldier from the 178th had been killed in action.
Chris Hoagland made it through Iraq, and now two of his stepsons are in Afghanistan.
"I met Hill a couple times," Hoagland said. "When somebody in the 178th family is gone, everybody mourns."
Bonnie Hoagland had to say a prayer of thanks that she was not the mother of a dead soldier and in the next breath cry for a wife just like herself.
"Everyone is family," she said.
That 178th family, after word became official, responded like families do when somebody in the family is dead -- with lightning speed.
The unit's Family Readiness Group leaders -- the wives and mothers left behind -- sent people and food, cups, plates and whatever Hill's wife needed. The few 178th soldiers home on leave from Afghanistan left the embraces of their own families to drive to Shawn Hill's home and offer condolence and service and remarks that Shawn Hill was a man's man. A soldier from Rock Hill who had never met Shawn Hill but also served in Iraq, drove during the late hours Thursday to tell that family that he and others in the 178th would do all they could for them.
There at the house were so many who had served with Hill. Sgt. Homer Dillard was one. Guardsmen together and best friends at home and at war. They rode together in Iraq for a year.
"I never worried about myself when I knew Shawn had my back," Dillard said. "He was my brother. An inspirational leader. He volunteered to go this time. Because some of his guys were going, and (he) wanted to watch their backs."
As word of Hill's death spread through the area 178th, Hayley Tindall finally got her phone call from her husband in Afghanistan. He knew Shawn Hill. This couple mourned together while separated by half the earth.
"I don't know Mrs. Hill over there in Wellford," Hayley Tindall told me. "But would you do me a favor? If you talk to her, tell her I cry for her."