When little boys gather, they will play. Tuesday night at the Rock Hill National Guard armory was no exception.
Even though both of these little boys have no daddies right now because their daddies are still in Afghanistan.
One little scrapper said, "My name is Dylan. My dad is in Afghanistan. My birthday is the end of May."
Then, Dylan stopped and said, "I sure hope he gets home for my birthday."
Playing with him was Ashton Jesse, whose dad, John, went to Iraq in 2003 and 2004 before this deployment last April. Ashton is 9 years old, and he has lived a full quarter of his short life without his father because the father is a guardsman deployed to wars.
"I can't wait for my dad to get home and take me to McDonald's," Ashton said.
All the sons and daughters, the wives and mothers, can't wait for their soldiers to get home.
Tuesday night was the monthly Family Readiness Group meeting for soldiers from the 178th Combat Engineers Battalion. More than 170 people from area armories went as part of the 218th Brigade that sent more than 1,800 men and women to Afghanistan last April. For a year, these families have shared the same thing: They count the days until their loved ones come home.
What families do is decorate the armory for the homecoming, like Tuesday night. Prepare big signs to put along the metal fence along Celanese Road near the armory.
And pray -- and wait.
Olive Garden provided the food Tuesday, free, like it always does. These families gather to share, for support, to mingle. Maybe laugh when you haven't laughed in days. This night, with a handful of the 178th soldiers home already but so many waiting to get home, was as hard to take as any.
These nights are beautiful -- and brutal.
Brutal when you watch and listen to Wanda Bennett and Charlotte Edwards and Karen Childers. All three have sons in Afghanistan. All the sons are age 21 or younger. These women sat together at one of three long tables, just like the other two tables in the armory filled with kids and wives and mothers.
"My son turned 19 over there," Childers said. "His name is Justin Outlaw. He was at York Tech when he got called up."
Edwards' son was going to Clemson. Bennett's son was at the University of South Carolina. Three young men living life to the hilt, doing what we in America say young men should do, then told to go across the world to guard convoys and train Afghan cops and military.
I yearn for a ceremony at this same armory that shows we appreciate these three young guys. And all the rest.
But ceremonies for some soldiers have to wait through the end of this month, even through May. The 218th Brigade is coming home in waves. Transportation has to be lined up overseas to get them home, said S.C. National Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Pete Brooks.
There were two little girls who sat at those tables and ate Tuesday night, and they were beautiful. Hailey and Dori Kimbrell, who came in yellow soccer jerseys.
They bounced inside because Eric Kimbrell, their father, got home from Afghanistan a few days ago. He saw them play soccer for the first time in a year Tuesday night, then brought his family to the armory to be with their other family. This group of waiters who have waited so long and wait still.
And Eric Kimbrell, who went to Iraq in 2003 and 2004 to boot, stood there and said of his daughters playing soccer, "Man, it was beautiful."
The rest of the little kids wait to hear that, too.