News 12 at 11 o'clock / Monday, Oct. 15, 2012
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Last month, the last of the more than 30,000 troops sent to Afghanistan during the surge finally came home. Around 68,000 still remain, and slowly, some of them are coming home, too. Some are arriving much sooner than expected.
Aiden Jackson's birthday isn't until next month, but the best birthday present ever came a little early. His hero is home. Dad will be here to celebrate when he turns 3.
"I'm just happy for the first time in a long time," Staff Sgt. Tommy Jackson told News 12 just minutes after landing in Augusta and running into his family's arms.
Staff Sgt. Jackson has been in Afghanistan for the last 6 months. It wasn't easy leaving his son or his wife, Carolyn, behind.
"We've never been apart for any length of time, except for a couple of days or so," she said. "So this has been the longest time."
Originally, they thought he'd be gone even longer. Jackson wasn't expected to be home until March of next year, but he volunteered to be part of a South Carolina agricultural team because he believed the mission was an important one.
"I helped the people of Afghanistan to learn better ways to grow their crops and to get it to market to have a better life for their families," he said.
Now, he's with his own family because of the presidential drawdown of forces. However, he admits he feels bad he was not able to complete his mission.
The rest of his family, including his sister-in-law, is happy he's home too.
"I want to cry, but I'm trying hard not to, " said Cindy McGee as she choked back tears.
The reunion even moved complete strangers to clap. They applauded as they walked through Augusta Regional Airport and saw the family hugging.
After leaving the airport in cars decorated with the words "I love my hero," "My dad is coming home" and "I love my soldier," the family returned home to Wagener.