Georgia National Guard troops return to emotional homecoming
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
ELBERTON, Ga.- Last spring, Amanda Broome and her 7-year-old son, Adam, filled up three jars with plastic toy soldiers.
There were 270 green soldiers -- for the 270 days until Sgt. 1st Class Pete Broome (Adam's daddy) returned home from an almost year-long deployment in Afghanistan.
So, every morning, Adam bolted out of bed to remove one miniature toy soldier from the jar and place it on the kitchen counter. Over time, those soldiers blanketed the counter, serving as constant reminder of Pete Broome's long absence. At the same time, as the army of soldiers grew, Adam knew he was one day closer to his father's return.
At barely 6 a.m. Saturday, Adam jumped out of bed to seize the 270th soldier. The very last one.
"Let's get Daddy," his mom said he exclaimed.
A few hours later, Pete Broome and about 220 fellow soldiers, still clad in military fatigues, filed into a high school gymnasium in Elberton. Jubilant family members and friends, cheering and waving homemade signs, anxiously waited a few more agonizingly long minutes during a formal ceremony before rushing to reunite with loved ones.
The welcome home was for the Georgia Army National Guard's 1-214th Field Artillery Battalion, based in Elberton but including soldiers from throughout Georgia.
The battalion provided security at and around a military base in western Afghanistan in an area stretching about 315 square kilometers. Duties included security for the base entry control point and patrolling the area.
Lt. Col. David Casey, battalion commander, said the soldiers' active duty orders will remain in effect for one more month to allow them to spend time with their families and ease back into civilian life. He added that the unit members will be offered health, job and other support services during the coming months.
McKinley Price, 13, not one to show excess emotion, tried his best to hold back tears during the brief formal ceremony, but eventually cracked. As he clutched a homemade sign in red and blue marker that simply said, "Welcome Home Dad," tears streamed down McKinley's face, his eyes red and puffy.
Casey eventually said the words everyone was waiting for: "Mission complete. Request permission to dismiss formation."
And, with that, friends and family raced to loved ones. It was a sea of kisses, hugs and tears.
Contacted later in the day after a tearful reunion, mom Merre Price of Elberton said son McKinley and her younger son, Wyatt, 10, were enjoying time relaxing on the couch, watching a little TV and working up a good appetite for dinner. Her husband, Staff Sgt. Mickey Price, had requested a steak dinner with baked potatoes and homemade rolls.
"We couldn't be happier," Merre Price said. "I am kind of glad that it's raining. It's nice just to hang out at home and be together, and not feel like we have to do anything -- just be together."
Back at the ceremony, Pete Broome of Lavonia also wept as he embraced his wife and son. Broome said he tried to cope with the separation by taking it one day at a time. He said on Sundays he and other soldiers in Afghanistan would have French toast, and for him that served as a marker of one more week until he would be home.
In the gymnasium, Broome lifted up his boy, clad in a Superman T-shirt, military fatigues and Braves baseball cap. Wife Amanda, wearing a bright yellow scarf, closed her eyes and held her husband tight.
Broome, an electrical engineer, plans to return to his job at Windstream after the remaining month of active duty expires.
For now, he is eager to make up for lost time with Adam, who deeply missed playing ball in the the backyard and play-wrestling with his dad.
This first weekend back home is reserved for Christmas. All of the Broome family's decorations are still up and Pete's wrapped gifts are under the tree.
Santa also brought a special bag of gifts to Adam with a note that says, "open these when your Dad comes home."