Long-awaited homecomings at Fort Stewart - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Long-awaited homecomings at Fort Stewart

January 19, 2006

Fort Stewart - Every week for the last month, hundreds of Georgia soldiers in the 3rd Infantry Division have come home from war. Wednesday night, family and friends welcomed home more than 200 soldiers at Fort Stewart.

They've waited 365 days for this night.

"I'm just excited and ready for him to come home," Jeannette Ballanco about her husband.

"Very excited, we've waited for this day for a very long time," said another soldier's wife.

Their soldiers were supposed to come home Saturday, and now these 3rd ID family and friends must wait just one more hour. Like the soldiers they love, these family and friends have sacrificed.

"It's been hard because he hasn't been here to watch her grow up," said Ballanco as she held her 15 month old daughter.

Dennea Serrant spent the year with her grandmother while her mother was a deployed.

Serrant said, "Having my mom gone has been sad, hard, hurtful and mad because I don't want them over there. I want them here."

Most soldiers only got to come home for a few weeks on leave. And in less than an hour, they will be home for good.

"I'm glad she's safe," said Serrant.

A handful of Vietnam Vets have come to 63 of these welcome home celebrations because they came home to no fanfare at all.

Veteran Frank Wood said, "They spit at us, threw bricks at us and cussed us. We said that we would never let that happen to soldier again. That's the reason we're out here."

Desert Storm veteran Miguel Cruz, "It fills me with emotion when I see them all because to me, they are all heroes. Now we have a new set of heroes coming back and that warms my heart also."

Finally, the buses carrying the new heroes arrives from Hunter Army Air Field. And they're welcomed with screams.The soldiers get off the bus, and march onto the field. After a final thank you from their commander, the soldiers are attacked one last time. But the friendly fire in this onrush came in the form of big hugs and kisses.

Dennae quickly spots her mother and tackles her with a hug.

"She picked me out of the crowd," her mother said. "That's my buddy, we do everything together. Just her being around me 24-7, I just missed that."

The soldiers missed a lot while they were gone, but now they have a lifetime to make up for lost time.

About 16,700 of the 19,000 members of the 3rd ID have come home since the beginning of December. All of them are expected within the next month.

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