Even though Spc. Casey Warrick had journeyed more than 7,400 miles to reach her family, the last quarter-mile had to be on foot.
Warrick, 28, was among about 160 soldiers with the 877th Engineer Co. who marched proudly into Augusta on Monday after a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan.
Buses deposited the soldiers on Milledge Road, about a quarter-mile from their final destination – a throng of family, friends and fellow soldiers gathered at the Army National Guard Armory.
“I wish they would just bus them in and let us have them,” said Christy Cobb, Warrick’s sister-in-law, who was part of a greeting party of six eagerly awaiting her arrival.
Warrick’s husband, Michael Warrick, said the two had sustained their relationship with daily international phone calls over the intervening months. The Hephzibah couple had been married only about three months in 2010 when his wife was called up for training and deployment, he said.
“This will be like a second honeymoon for us,” he said, acknowledging that it would take time to get used to being with each other again. “She’s been by herself and I’ve been by myself for about 14 months. There will be a lot of adjustment.”
The daily calls, however, kept them connected and focused on the mundane details of life – “How are the cats? Did you empty the litter box?” – even while Warrick was in harm’s way. One of her duties was to serve as turret gunner on an M240 machine gun while the engineers traveled through dangerous western mountain passes of Afghanistan’s Logar and Wardak provinces.
Every day, Michael said he dreaded getting the terrible news that thankfully never came. Even though the unit engaged enemy forces on 35 occasions, it suffered no casualties, the unit spokesman, 1st Lt. William Carraway, said.
There was one near miss. A roadside bomb detonated just seconds after Warrick’s vehicle passed while returning from a mission. Michael Warrick said the call that day from his wife was chilling. “She called screaming, ‘It almost happened,’ ” he said.
On Monday, he waited patiently near the back of the crowd until the brief welcoming ceremony ended with 1st Sgt. Jeff Logon dismissing the troops with a bellow of, “Fall out!”
The soldiers were instantly enveloped by the crowd, and Warrick waded into the chaos holding aloft a hand-lettered sign that read, “Welcome Home Casey.” After several minutes of searching, he finally found his bride.
“You just want to hug ’em and never let them go,” he said.