The 108th is the largest of Georgia's 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team to arrive at Fort Stewart from their yearlong deployment in Afghanistan.
The more than 400 Citizen-Soldiers touched down in two waves, with arriving around 11:15 p.m. Sunday and the remaining troopers at about 3 a.m. Monday.
The 108th's headquarters is in Calhoun. Other 108th units are home stationed in Rome (Troop A), Dalton (Troop B) and Canton (Troop C). Also home from Afghanistan is Cedartown's Company D, 148th Forward Support Company, which provides logistics support to the cavalry.
The 108th's troopers are among the more than 2,000 Citizen-Soldiers 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.
"I think if you ask any one of us, we're really proud of the work we did over there, but someone like me, being back, well it's a great weight off my shoulders," said Sgt. 1st Class Joe Dyer, who leads Troop A's third platoon. "As a leader I'm not only concerned about getting the mission done right, I'm
concerned about the safety of my Soldiers. I thank the Lord that I'm lucky enough not to have lost anyone over there, and that they're all home now, safe and sound."
Dyer, an employee of Polk County Sheriff's Office, said he was referring to the loss suffered by Troop A's second platoon on June 4, 2009, when Sgt.1st Class John C. Beal was killed by an IED and Insurgents small arms fire near Kapisa, Afghanistan.
"Bill was a great NCO, a great leader and a great inspiration to his troopers," was all he said before turning his attention back to his troopers.
After having turned in their weapons, both waves of the 108th boarded buses for the ride to Fort Stewart in Hinesville where they would be met by loved ones and friends waiting to welcome them home on Stewart's Cottrell Parade Field.
It's there that Lt. Col. Randal Simmons, the 108th's commander, reported to Brig. Gen. Maria Britt, Georgia Army Guard commander, that his unit had completed its mission and that it had come home.
"Welcome back to the greatest country in the world, the United States of America, and welcome home," said Britt. "Be proud of what you accomplished while in Afghanistan for you have been more than successful in that mission."
Simmons later said he believed that when his troopers left Afghanistan, they left its army improved and in better shape than they'd found it. For all the 108th had suffered in losses, it left an indelible mark of improvement on those it had touched.
"Because of the commitment and dedication these Soldiers (108th Cavalry), the Afghan army and the National Police have a pride they never before had," he said.
During the ceremony Britt and Col. Woody Radcliff, intelligence officer for Georgia's Joint Forces Headquarters, introduced Donna Blair of Calhoun, and the widow of 1st Sgt. John Blair. The one-time 1-180th Soldier who was the senior enlisted leader of Lawrenceville's Company A, 1st Battalion, 121st
Infantry when he died in combat on June 20, 2009. Donna, who appeared before the crowd of more than 600 and holding an American flag, wiped a tear during the introduction.
Among the families who rushed the 108th's formation when the ceremony ended was that of Spc. William Riley Brock, a scout with Rome's Troop A who just ended his first-ever deployment. They nearly knocked the '07 Pepprell High School graduate over and his Cavalry Stetson off his head when they located him among the sea of Army Combat Uniforms.
"We're elated that he's home and that he's home safe," said Brock's stepfather, Chris Watson, as the Soldier's mother, Patricia, grandmother, sister Christy and Tiffany Smith and grandmother Larene Abney gathered round.
"It's been tough having him there, on us, and on him, with all that he's seen and been through, but he's home now and we just couldn't be happier or prouder of him."
Now that 1st Squadron, 108th Cavalry is back on home soil, it'll 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's done, they report to their armories, and then home for some well earned down time.
As for Brock, he intends to study nursing after he's rested.
"Got to get my degree and do something I really love as much the Guard," he said.