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South Carolina Guard redeploys here
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Fort Stewart will be home for a few days to members of a battalion of the South Carolina National Guard which just returned from Afghanistan.
The first group of S.C. National Guard soldiers to go to Afghanistan returned to the U.S. Wednesday to cheers, applause and tears of joy.
Roughly 170 soldiers from the Guard’s 1st Battalion, 263rd Armor Regiment arrived here about 6:30 p.m. — nearly four hours late.
Neither the soldiers in the Marion, S.C.-based unit nor 100 family members who greeted them seemed to mind the delay.
The troops will spend the next couple of days filling out Army paperwork and undergoing physical examinations.
They’ll leave Fort Stewart on Sunday. Most will return home with their families. However, some troops will ride buses back to their hometown armories.
Col. Peter Brooks, public affairs officer for the South Carolina National Guard, referred questions about the redeployment to Fort Stewart. Fort Stewart’s PAO did not respond to an emailed inquiry.
The unit, part of the Guard’s 218th Brigade Combat Team, was mobilized in October 2006. It deployed to Afghanistan last January.
The soldiers spent the first half of their Afghan tour providing security, manning convoys and patrolling neighborhoods near coalition bases. Then, in July, most were shifted to mentoring Afghan forces.
The 218th commands Task Force Phoenix, a multi-national coalition unit charged with training and mentoring the Afghan army and police.
Brig. Gen. Bob Livingston, the Columbia, S.C., businessman who is commander of the 218th and Task Force Phoenix, praised the troops’ work.
Livingston, who is home on leave, said up to 300 Afghan police were dying each month before they started working with the Guard. Since then, police deaths have dropped to under 30 a month, Livingston said.
Besides saving lives, the troops also helped Afghan police prevent Taliban forces from overrunning any of the country’s 395 police district centers, for the first winter since the war started in 2001.
“They have truly changed Afghanistan, and they have truly changed the world,” Livingston said.
The unit had 200 soldiers when it mobilized in mid-October from Marion, where a departure ceremony was held.
However, Capt. David Fowler of Union said more than two dozen soldiers volunteered to stay in Afghanistan. They will return home in May with the rest of the brigade’s 1,600 members.
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