Town awaits Guard's homecoming

Associated Press


ORANGEBURG, S.C. --- Yellow ribbons adorn the streets and "Welcome Home" banners are going up for the South Carolina Army National Guard's 218th Brigade Combat Team, which is returning from Afghanistan after a yearlong deployment.

The homecoming can't come soon enough for Alice Doyle, a 52-year-old grandmother who has struggled to keep four generations afloat while her son served with the state's largest single unit deployment since World War II.

About 1,800 soldiers, all but 200 from South Carolina, are returning home through mid-May.

"It's a big relief off my shoulders," said Ms. Doyle, displaying posters her family put up outside their Orangeburg home.

Ms. Doyle quit work to care for her 85-year-old mother. She shepherded a once-ailing daughter-in-law back to health, and cared for three grandchildren while her son was deployed.

"We're going to have a big ol' cookout -- turkey, ham, steaks, you name it," she said as a 2-year-old grandson showed how he learned to blow kisses while his father was gone.

Sgt. Furman Doyle Jr., 33, gets a week off before he must return to military school because he just made sergeant, explained his 28-year-old wife, Monica, who sported a "Camp Phoenix, Kabul, Afghanistan" T-shirt.

Soldiers from units in Orangeburg, West Columbia and Fountain Inn are due to return over the coming days. Others will come back in staggered redeployments through mid-May.

In Fountain Inn, yellow ribbons decorate the street where a weekend welcome-home parade is planned.

Members of a family support group put together "Welcome Home" baskets stuffed with gift certificates, coupons for miniature golf and other items.

"They can use it for anything, buy gas, food, whatever they need," said Robin Grazioso, a family support leader in Fountain Inn. "We want to provide things for families to spend time together, but without having to spend a lot of money."

In Beaufort, Shirley Long told herself to have patience because she knows her husband, John, won't be back until the final days of the unit's deployment.

"He's a command sergeant major, so he's always the first to go and the last to leave," Ms. Long said with a laugh.

Ms. Long, who kept in touch with her husband using a voice-over-the-Internet phone, was looking forward to handing off some household chores.

"I've lost a lot of sleep and have gotten a little older," said the grandmother of six. "Until he gets back, I'm playing it all by ear. I'm just not going to get worked up."