After 15 months in Afghanistan, members of the 218th Infantry Brigade returned to Union County Friday night to a heroes' welcome.
Family, friends and well-wishers from throughout the community turned out to welcome them back during a ceremony at the Union National Guard Armory. The 218th was deployed to Afghanistan to train the country's security forces as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
State Rep. Mike Anthony commented on the difference he noticed with the troops' families Friday from when they were deployed.
“The faces of the families are so different from what they were 15 months ago,” he said. “Just looking into their faces, I can see the excitement of them coming home compared to the pain of them leaving 15 months ago.
“I see two of my boys that played football here for me,” he added. “Seeing them come back home and come back whole is better than winning a football championship.”
Col. Gordon C. Johnson thanked the men and women of the 218th “for doing the great job you're doing.” Johnson reviewed some of the experiences of the 218th during their deployment and said that as a result they were now members of “an elite club,” soldiers who wear the “Combat Patch.”
Lt. Col. Clark W. Murff thanked the readiness groups and family members for the reception welcoming the troops. He also thanked them for their support during the 15-month deployment, adding that the 218th did a wonderful job in Afghanistan.
The 218th was part of the Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix VI which trained and mentored the Afghan security forces to conduct independent, self-sustained counterinsurgency and security operations. The operation began in May 2007 and according to a written statement issued by Gen. Robert E. Livingston, the commander of Phoenix VI, the result has been security forces that are “well-respected, multi-ethnic, sustainable, capable of effectively conducting” law enforcement and counterinsurgency operations and other essential tasks required to secure the country both internally and along its borders.
“I am tremendously proud of each and every member of Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix VI,” he stated. “I'm especially proud of the fine men and women of the 218th BCT and the great state of South Carolina. These brave and dedicated warriors have performed exceptionally under the most severe conditions imaginable for a year and what they have accomplished is literally world changing. We could not have accomplished this difficult mission without the steadfast support from families, friends and business and civic leaders back home. Thank you.”