FORT GORDON–Hundreds of cheering family members welcomed 58 soldiers of the Georgia Army National Guard’s Agribusiness Development Team 1 (ADT-1) home from Logar Province, Afghanistan. Maj. Gen. Jim Butterworth, Georgia’s Adjutant General, was present to welcome the soldiers home.
"It is because of soldiers like this, families like this, that the Georgia Guard can accomplish its mission," said Butterworth.
ADT-1 is comprised of soldiers from 48 cities and 33 counties in Georgia and North Carolina. For 12 months, the team worked with Afghan farmers to help improve agricultural practices and provide a better quality of life for the Afghan people. In the course of their deployment, ADT-1 completed 192 ground missions and 92 air missions without a single casualty.
The ADT’s commander, Col. Bill Williams III, of Grayson, praised the soldiers and family members.
"Standing before you is America’s best," said Williams. "It is an honor and a privilege to serve with such soldiers. But our families have also paid the price for freedom."
Emma Simpson, the 6-year old daughter of Master Sgt. Dale Simpson of Grayson, eloquently expressed that cost.
"I haven’t had a dad since he’s been overseas," she said. Master Sgt. Simpson missed Emma’s first day of kindergarten and other milestones, but the Simpson family remained strong through the separation.
"Knowing that he was doing something good for his country and that he was coming home kept us going," said Simpson’s wife Julie.
Master Sgt. Simpson expressed relief at being home.
"I feel like a ton has lifted off my shoulders," he said. "It’s good to be back with our families, and it’s good to know that we’ve left a legacy behind."
Other soldiers echoed the sentiments of legacy and service.
"I’m very proud to be in the Georgia Guard," beamed Command Sgt. Maj. Randall Parker, of Richmond Hill. "I love it. I love the family time and the time spent with the soldiers. Family is very important to the Guard."
Parker will have the opportunity to enjoy family time with his twin grandchildren who were born during the deployment.
For Maj. George McCommon, a veterinarian from Macon, the return was bittersweet.
"It’s a bit surreal," said McCommon. "We had a great time in Afghanistan and we didn’t want to stop. The Afghan people welcomed us and we helped them foster a positive relationship with their government."
Soldiers spoke of the overwhelming response they received during the long bus ride from Camp Shelby, Miss., to Fort Gordon.
"Once we hit the Alabama line the Patriot Guard Riders escorted us all the way here," said Parker. "It was outstanding. We had police escort and the people on the interstate waved at us. Some even got out of their trucks on the side of the road to wave to us."
The Patriot Riders and Fort Gordon’s Signal Corps Band helped make the return unforgettable, but the best part was reuniting with family members.
"We did our job and did it well," said Spc. Angel Mendez, an infantryman from Woodstock. "We all came back safe and it is great to be home."