CAMP PHOENIX, Afghanistan -- In the watchtower, chow hall and post exchange, S.C. National Guard troops talk about being "short."
"Short," though, doesn't mean losing a few inches in height. Instead, it's military lingo meaning soldiers are at the "short" end of their combat tour.
For the S.C. troops, the end is just weeks away as the 218th Brigade Combat Team prepares to head back to the United States after a yearlong mission in Afghanistan.
"I'm looking forward to getting on that plane and going home," said Staff Sgt. Randy Jowers of Rock Hill.
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The first group of S.C. troops who came here with the brigade's main body in April and May 2007 is scheduled to leave Afghanistan by the end of the month, said Maj. Timothy Ellis, a 218th officer.
By late April, almost all of the brigade's soldiers will be on their way back home as the 218th hands over command of Task Force Phoenix to the 27th Brigade Combat Team of the New York National Guard.
The 218th's scheduled return to the United States is running about two weeks ahead of its original plans, said Ellis of Anderson. That's because the Pentagon changed how Guard units train and deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan in early 2007.
The 218th, for example, spent three months training at Camp Shelby, Miss., before leaving for Afghanistan. The New York unit, on the other hand, did some of its pre-Afghanistan training at home before heading to Fort Bragg, N.C., for two months. The change allowed the New York troops to spend a little more time at home and the S.C. troops to come home earlier.
The brigade's senior leaders fret the troops might be thinking too much about their homecoming plans.
"This is the most dangerous time of the deployment," said Command Sgt. Maj. John Harrelson, the brigade's top enlisted leader. "They can see the barn door closing."
Having their mind on home, rather than the job at hand, could lead to complacency.
So senior leaders emphasize safety and the need to wear body armor and helmets, Harrelson said. Additionally, they remind troops of the deadly threats that wait outside their camp gates.
"You can die just as easy today as you could when you first got here," said Harrelson, noting the brigade has lost three soldiers. "We don't want to put any more pictures in that (memorial) case."
Although this is his first deployment to a combat zone, Spc. Christopher Sullivan talks about the need for soldiers to stay sharp like a seasoned veteran.
"When you go outside that gate, you can't get complacent. You've got to be on your toes," said Sullivan of Hampton.
Keeping busy and not thinking about home are the best ways to avoid complacency or obsession with a departure date, troops said.
"I try to stay relaxed by not talking about it," said Sgt. Mike Savage of Union. "The more you talk about it, the longer it will seem before you go home.
"You just retire at night, get some sleep, wake up the next morning and get another breath of fresh air," Savage said.
Staying focused on the job at hand makes the time go by faster, said Sgt. Robert Argroe, who previously served with a Guard unit in Iraq.
"I don't count the days because, when you do that, it will seem like forever," said Argroe of Springfield. "I'll just count the hours on that bus ride home."
There won't be a moment for troops to let up until they are on a plane headed home, said Harrelson, the 218th's senior enlisted leader.
"We have to be on guard to the last day," Harrelson said. "Anytime can be your time, and you don't get a vote in it."