Spc. Malik Gorham’s first time holding his daughter wasn’t in a hospital. It was in a crowded gym full of crying, shouting people, and he was wearing his Army fatigues.
“Skype wasn’t enough,” he said as he held 3-week-old Shanyia, his second child, in his arms.
Gorham was one of about 125 soldiers in the 518th Tactical Installation Networking Company who returned to Fort Gordon on Wednesday after a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan and the Middle East.
During the deployment, soldiers provided support in telecommunication facilities for more than 45,000 U.S. and coalition forces throughout Afghanistan.
“I couldn’t wait,” Gorham said. “I was so excited. It was as if time was at a standstill.”
“Us too,” his wife, Shay, said as she looked on with their other daughter, Nariah.
Families gathered in a Fort Gordon gym early Wednesday in anticipation of the soldiers’ arrival. But they were late, and families grew restless.
Donna Anderson, of Oklahoma, sat with her husband, a Vietnam War veteran, and two of her grandchildren. The group, all dressed in red, stood out in the crowd.
Anderson said that was the point. She wanted her 21-year-old grandson, Spc. Brennan Binford, to find them easily. He was coming back from his first deployment after joining the Army straight out of high school.
“It’s been hard,” Anderson said, her eyes red and voice cracking. “It’s been wonderful seeing him serve his country, but it’s been hard.”
Lt. Col. Michael Martel seemed to sense the families’ urgency as he delivered his welcoming speech nearly an hour after the troops were scheduled to arrive.
“I’m about to release them, so get ready,” Martel said. “Just don’t run me over.”
At the signal, the front row of bleachers emptied immediately as families ran to their soldiers, who broke their perfect formation.
Anderson ran into her grandson’s arms and buried her face in his shoulder. When they released each other, she was wiping away tears.
“I almost cried, and I’m not really a crier,” Binford said of the moment.
It wasn’t Heather Casanas’ first time welcoming home her husband, Staff Sgt. Luis Casanas, but she said the fourth deployment wasn’t any less overwhelming than the others.
“You go through a roller coaster of emotions,” she said.