Reserve sailors from the Navy Operational Support Center on Central Avenue in Augusta usually miss out on big celebrations with waving family members, music and fanfare as the ship pulls out from port. As reserves, they often deploy and come home one by one rather than with a cohort.
“Today is special for us to recognize that all of them have come and gone back,” said Lt. Cmdr. Todd Peters, of the center.
Though it was a belated welcome home party, sailors and soldiers finally got a chance to celebrate with fellow reserve members, their families and many veterans Saturday at Diamond Lakes Regional Park.
Chief Jeff Mellot, of the Navy reserves, has returned from about seven deployments in 19 years and appreciates the community support each time.
“It’s mixed emotions. You’re out to sea for six months of hard work,” he said. “There’s just uncertainty of what happens when you get back.”
The welcome home celebration, sponsored by the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center, included a salute to military veterans and an outdoor carnival with free hamburgers and hotdogs cooked by the American Legion. The crowd boogied to soul music from the band Uptowners while browsing health care information booths and checking out antique and racing car collections.
For soldiers from the 319th Transportation Company, Saturday morning was a break from twice-monthly drills and a day to mingle with friends from deployment.
De’Angelo Clark, 21, walked around with buddies from his Army Reserves unit that returned from Iraq a few months ago. Being together again was a celebration, but they also chatted about the difficulties of returning home.
Filling out a handful of job applications was an important part of the event for Clark. He thought joining the reserves would teach him military skills that would be valuable on a résumé, but Clark has been unemployed since returning from deployment for his child’s birth a year ago.
Jason Kirkland, a retired Army platoon sergeant, also picked up employment information. Kirkland has been without a job since December, and he decided to go to school in the meantime.
With two children holding temporary tattoos of the American flag pulling at her side, Jessica Hale said the event was another example of community support she received throughout her fiancé’s 11 month deployment with the 319th Transportation Company.
“It’s good to bring your family out here. The kids might not understand what we’re celebrating, but it’s a great thing,” Hale said.