70 National Guardsmen come home for Thanksgiving

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November 22, 2006

It was happy homecoming today for 70 National Guardsmen.

They get to spend Thanksgiving with their families after a yearlong tour in Iraq.

News 12 was there when the 878th Engineer Battalion saw their families for the first time after a long-time in the war zone.

It was a very happy and emotional afternoon as the men and women got off their bus in Swainsboro, in what many call the warmest welcome home they've ever seen.

"You go over there for a mission and you don't realize what's going on back here and how much the community does support you. It's wonderful," said Guardsman Sgt. Bradford.

His family made t-shirts to honor his return.

"I just can't explain it!" said his wife, Leigh Bradford. "It's overwhelming."

The return is also overwhelming for the battalion's commander, Capt. Oxendine III.

"One thing about engineering is you can see your job, your performance. You leave a legacy behind," he said.

In this case, that legacy was securing roads, installations, and other areas the troops work. The local Army ROTC came out to congratulate them on a job well done.

"We want to thank the soldiers for protecting us!" one Army soldier said.

Melissa Daniels came out to be reunited with her brother.

"It's so good, it feels so great, it's a blessing from the Lord to see him!" she said.

Scenes like this make the mission complete for the commander.

"Words cannot describe it," he said. "To get them to their families with all their loved ones. It's a good thing for me."

And a good thing for the community, according to Maj. Gen. Poythress, who was also there to welcome the troops home.

"Fabulous day!" he said. "Everyone's excited to be home. I got to say this is the best welcome home we've seen in Georgia."

The best welcome home Sgt. Bradford has ever seen.

"When you go down Main Street and you see people lined up on every corner, it's the best feeling you could ever have," he said. "It's wonderful."

The guardsmen had a unique experience in their time overseas.

It was their first time using vehicles that actually detect land mines and other roadside threats. They're called Meerkat Route Clearance Vehicles, and they are heavily armored.

Those Meerkats can actually take a direct hit from a roadside explosive with very little damage.

This technology is helpful in protecting service men and women, since roadside explosives are one of the war on terror's biggest killers.