It was worth the wait for the families and soldiers of Alpha Battery.
The Springfield-based unit of the 1/118 Field Artillery Battalion marched its way across a soggy Cottrell Field parade ground at Fort Stewart and, minutes later, into the arms of ecstatic loved ones to complete their deployment to Afghanistan.
The unit left nearly 10 months ago and returned to south Georgia early — very early — Tuesday morning.
The group was the first of many citizen-soldiers who will redeploy to Georgia in the next two months. Arrival times for other returning flights, and dates for upcoming welcome home ceremonies are expected soon, but remain up in the air.
“We’re going to Disney World,” said Heather Durden, whose husband Ricky Durden was one of the first 48th Brigade soldiers to come home. “The last two weeks, we’ve been talking about Disney World.”
Frank and Michele Patterson, along with Shannon Patterson, waited for the return of Frank Jr. and William Patterson.
“We’re quite proud of these boys,” Frank Patterson Sr. said.
Mother Michele has carried a picture of her two sons through several parades in Effingham County. Now, they’re back home in the flesh.
“He looks good, real good,” she said of her youngest son William, while Frank Jr. reunited with his wife Shannon.
The deployment to Afghanistan was the second tour of duty for the elder Patterson son, having served with the 48th Brigade in Iraq.
“It’s nice, nice to be home,” he said. “It’s been hard. Just another journey in the book.”
The soldiers of Battery A are among the more than 2,000 members of Macon’s 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team who left last June to support Operation Enduring Freedom.
Bridget Mingle of Statesboro waited on her husband, who also was completing his second tour of duty.
“It’s been long, very long and very stressful,” she said of the separation.
The Mingles have been in contact “pretty much every day,” she said. “It has helped a lot.”
The returning soldiers were hailed by Brig. Gen. Maria Britt, the commanding general of the Georgia Army National Guard, before families were allowed to welcome them home.
“Welcome home to the greatest land in the world,” she said. “You have had a successful mission. Alpha Battery, you have made us proud. You’ve done a super job.”
For Ricky Durden, the walk across Cottrell Field and catching his wife’s leap into his arms was nothing short of victorious.
“It’s like just winning the Super Bowl,” he said. “I’m ready to go to Disney World.”