It’d time to break out the yellow ribbons and ready the celebration of homecoming troops.
North Carolina Army National Guard troops based in Hamlet have received their marching orders to return home by the end of the month.
The exact date is unknown, but a military official explained it will come within the next two to three weeks, and there will be 24 to 48 hours advance notice of their arrival.
“Time is of the essence,” said Hamlet National Guard Family Readiness co-leader Ronda Jones. “People need to get busy hanging bows, making posters and getting downtown Hamlet ready for them to come home.”
The first of nearly 4,000 soldiers from the National Guard 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team arrived at armories in Durham, Charlotte, Fayetteville and Goldsboro over the weekend, according to a press release from the Guard.
North Carolina National Guard spokesperson Maj. Matt Handley explained Hamlet National Guard troops aren’t far behind.
“First of all, everyone within the Guard is extremely excited to see that we are close to getting the 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team home,” Handley said Monday morning. “However, those first few soldiers (who returned last weekend) were a kind of advanced group, and the majority of the team will start coming home late this week and won’t be back into North Carolina until mid-to late-next week at the earliest.”
Members of Hamlet’s Echo Company 1/120th Combined Arms Battalion, which is a member of the 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team, were mobilized in late 2008 for their second Iraqi deployment.
Handley explained once the Guard troops return to the United States they’re required to undergo medical screenings and training at Fort Stewart to help them get used to life back home.
The demobilization process, as it’s referred to among soldiers, could take up to a couple of weeks.
“They are working full days to get through all their stations - personnel, financial, health checkups - but they’re getting a chance to rest up before they get home,” Handley said. “The bus ride should take about five to six hours, but one thing we’re doing is making sure that the buses get there at a reasonable hour and not rolling up in the middle of the night, or anything.”
He said the troops that arrived home Sunday “had some adrenaline pumping.”
“I think by the time they get to this point, they’re just ready to get home and see their loved ones,” Handley said. “As a matter of fact, my understanding is that the troops that came home over the weekend told their bus driver not to stop, so they actually ended up getting there a couple of hours earlier than expected.”
Because the exact date of the troop arrival in Hamlet won’t be known until a day or two in advance, Handley said communities should be at the ready for the arrival to happen at any time during and after next week.
“If communities want to go ahead and get their ribbons up, that’s great,” he said. “You have through the weekend and into next week to go ahead and make all your preparations to welcome them home.”
Jones and other Family Readiness Group members are hoping to organize a crowd lining the streets when the buses arrive, and possibly a parade and entertainment for a ‘Welcome Home Celebration.’
“We’re hoping that everyone in the county will just come out and welcome them home,” fellow co-leader of the family readiness group Valeria Lunceford said.
Her son, Sgt. E-5 William Lunceford, is one of the troops returning home.
“He said he’d just like to see people lining the streets, so he knows they appreciate what he did.”
“I think it gives them a certain amount of gratification and validation that someone does appreciate what they did when they were over there,” Jones said. “To help them feel like they weren’t just over there forgotten about.
Her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Jason Jones, is also a member of the current deployment, and she explained he is looking forward to spending some quiet time with his family upon arrival. The two share a two-year-old daughter named Rileigh.
“Basically, we want masses of people to line the streets with posters, so they look out the window and just see a sea of people,” Jones said. “But we also want everyone to understand that they may not get to spend personal time with each soldier, because they have families they’ve been away from a long time and they’re going to want to spend time with them first.”
While Jones said she understands the recent cold weather will serve as a deterrent, the troops have weathered extreme conditions in service to their country during their second deployment.
“This will take maybe 30 minutes of your time, and I don’t think that is too much to ask for these guys who’ve given up so much over the course of the last year,” she said.
The readiness group is encouraging citizens to make welcome home posters to be hung on the wall at the Hamlet City Lake.
Yellow ribbons are also being sold for $1 apiece at several area businesses, with the proceeds going toward the cost of the celebration to welcome the troops back to Hamlet.
These ribbons are available at Vector T-Shirts and Fidelity Bank, both of Hamlet, as well as at the Hamlet and Rockingham BB&T locations.
Anyone with questions or concerns is welcome to contact the Family Readiness Group at (910) 582-6885. Posters to decorate the inside of the Hamlet Armory may be dropped off at it, or mailed to the National Guard Armory in Hamlet at 219 Boyd Lake Road, Hamlet, NC 28345.
Staff Writer Philip D. Brown can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 32, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.