Butler said he left the two-stoplight town of Ocilla, Ga., at
6 a.m. Sunday to share one more hug with his son, who is headed on a nine-month deployment to the Middle East with the rest of the 518th Tactical Installation Networking Company. Wearing a cap tight over his head and a shirt that read “U.S. Army Dad,” he kept his eyes fixed on the door he knew his son would enter through.
“It’s only a little easier this time,” Butler said. “I took it for granted before he joined, but now I want to hug just about every man and woman in uniform that I see. It hurts, but I’m proud of him.”
Outside the gym stood the soldiers of the 518th in neatly filed rows, groomed to perfection with rifles thrown over each of their shoulders.
Sunday marked the company’s fifth deployment, the last being served from June 2012 to March 2013. The company will provide communication support in telecommunication facilities for U.S. and coalition forces throughout Kuwait and Afghanistan.
Spc. Corey Taylor, who is serving his first deployment, said he is excited for the opportunity to serve his country but will miss his wife, Erica, and their 1-year-old daughter, Jacqueline.
“They know that I have a job to do over here and over there,” he said. “I’ll miss them. Everything else is a commodity that I can do without.”
When the company filed into the gym, they were met with a standing ovation. The soldiers stood fast while 63rd Expeditionary Signal Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Michael P. Martel addressed the audience.
“We know you’ll make yourself, your families and your unit proud,” he told the soldiers. “I leave you with your company motto: ‘Raiders make it happen.’”
Just 30 minutes after the start of the program, soldiers filed out of the gym one by one. Their families rushed to meet them outside before the soldiers were bused away. Members of the Patriot Guard Riders sat atop motorcycles as they prepared to lead the buses off base.
Despite the chaos, Butler managed to find his son in the crowd and draw him in for a few parting words.
“I told him that I love him and that I’ll see him soon,” he said.