UNION — Both sides of Industrial Park Road were lined with people holding signs and welcome home gifts as they awaited the arrival of men and women of the Army National Guard who were returning from a year-long deployment in Kosovo.
Eighty-six soldiers from the South Carolina Army National Guard 1st Battalion 118th Infantry Regiment — which were part of more than 400 who made up the 218th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade — were welcomed home from their nine-month deployment to Kosovo during a homecoming ceremony Tuesday morning at the National Guard Armory in Union.
The 218th MEB was mobilized in May 2012. After training at Camp Atterbury, Ind., they deployed to Kosovo in August 2012. During their deployment, the 218th MEB helped maintain a safe and secure environment as well as freedom of movement for the residents of Kosovo as part of the Multi-National Battle Group-East in support of Kosovo Force (KFOR) 16.
Soldiers of the 218th MEB earned numerous awards for their outstanding efforts during the deployment, to include 93 Army Achievement medals, 59 Army Commendation medals, 18 Meritorious Service medals and various other awards for weapons proficiency and physical fitness.
“These heroic South Carolinians deployed to Kosovo at a pivotal time and successfully accomplished a critical mission,” said Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston, Jr., The Adjutant General of South Carolina. “Their hard work over the past year has helped restore hope and build a culture of peace. I am grateful for their families’ sacrifices and proud to join them in welcoming our soldiers home safely.”
Livingston said the appreciation for the soldiers was apparent by the overwhelming number of family members and friends who filled the armory and lined both sides of the road before Tuesday’s Welcome Home ceremony.
“This is what America is all about,” he said.
Lt. Col. Robert Carruthers, Commander of the 1-118th Infantry Regiment, also spoke during the ceremony.
“Kosovo is at peace right now because of the sacrifice, dedication and courage of these soldiers,” Carruthers said, explaining that they chose hardship over comfort for the good of the country.
“These men and women chose to sacrifice a period of their lives to give back to a nation that has given so much to us. There are no better role models than those who stand before you.”
Carruthers also said their success would have been impossible without the support of their family and friends back home.
That support was illustrated throughout the armory Tuesday morning as tears flowed while family members hugged and kissed those they missed, while others spent time thanking the returning soldiers for their service.
Sgt. Jessica Sousa was greeted by her son, Matthew Young, and daughter, Aubree Sousa; her mother, Sherry Moore; her sisters, Erica and Christine Sousa; a sister-in-law, Melissa Jarrett; her aunt, Lisa Thomas; nieces, Ansli Sousa, Daniella Ponce, and Emma Jarrett; and cousins, Aiden Watkins, Ashley Powell, David Powell and Isaac Powell.
Sousa said while deployed in Kosovo, she got to interact with locals who were welcoming and loved having Americans there. She said her children and family were what she missed most, as well as freedom to come and go as she pleased.
Sousa also attempted to describe the overwhelming feeling she said she experienced when returning to Union Tuesday morning.
“Holding my children makes me realize how much I truly missed being with them every day,” she said. “And seeing my whole family made me remember the real reason I joined the military.”
Staff Writer Derik Vanderford can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 29, or by email at email@example.com.