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More local Guardsmen back from OEF
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Statesboro’s 48th Brigade Special Troops Battalion (BSTB) is the second group of Georgia’s 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) to return home from Afghanistan.

Battalion members are among the more than 2,000 Georgia Guardsman who left in June 2009 to spend a year supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. Their mission was to train and mentor the Afghan National Army and National Police.  

Along with the BSTB’s estimated 90 soldiers, were Guardsmen from the brigade’s Macon headquarters, 2/121 Infantry Battalion headquartered in Griffin and from the 221st Military Intelligence Battalion home stationed at Fort Gillem in Ellenwood.

“God it’s great to be home again,” exclaimed Spc. Gerald Dingeldein of Rincon and the first BSTB soldier to touch the tarmac. Dingeldein, a light-wheel mechanic, assisted with force protection measures at Camp Black Horse, home to coalition forces of Combined Task Force Phoenix.

“Hello Georgia,” he said as he walked toward the terminal and turned in the M-4 rifle he carried, “I’m back!”

Following Dingeldein off the aircraft was Staff Sgt. Carlisle Davis of Macon, and a heavy equipment operator who, among other duties, worked in force protection.

“Yeah,” Davis offered as he walked along side he fellow Guardsman. “It’s great to know that in just a few short days I can, we all can, sit back and take it easy for awhile.”

Greeting the group as they headed for the terminal and the buses waiting to take them to nearby Fort Stewart were Brig. Gen. Maria Britt, Georgia Army Guard commander; Command Sgt. Maj. James Nelson, the Army Guard’s senior enlisted leader; and Lt. Col. Michael Fordham, the brigade executive officer.

“You are all great Americans and great patriots,” Brig. Gen. Britt later told the soldiers during a ceremony at Fort Stewart’s Cottrell Field. “You should be proud of what you have accomplished in your mission to help the Afghans become the protectors of their own country…welcome back to the greatest country in the world, the United States of America, and welcome home.”

Brooke Jenkins of Savannah, and the wife of Spc. Earl Jenkins, was among the more than 100 families, friends and dignitaries who hailed the 48th BSTB’s long-awaited return. Even though he was standing next her, holding her in his arms, she was still in disbelief.

“I’m so proud of him, but I’ve missed him so much,” she said with tears in her eyes. “I just can’t believe he’s actually home.”

Before leaving Cottrell for the nearby Guard Garrison Training Center, Jenkins said he and Brooke plan a small vacation to make up for lost time together. Then it’s back to school at Ogeechee Technical College where he’ll finish his echocardiography degree.

“Until then, I — we — have got a whole lot of catching up to do,” he said.

Now that the 48th BTSB has returned, it will take a little more than a week for its soldiers to come off active duty and move back to their traditional Guard status. Once that is done, they report to their armory, and then head home for some well-earned downtime.