Soldiers return home

Photo by Abby Morris
City Finance Director, Brad Moffitt, shakes hands with SFC Jerry Hinkle of the 776th Maintenance Company outside the National Guard Armory where friends, family and local officals gathered to welcome about 40 members of the unit home on Sunday afternoon.

Approximately 40 members of 776th return from Fort Campbell, Ky.

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
Approximately 40 members of the 776th Maintenance Company of the Tennessee National Guard returned home this weekend from Fort Campbell, Kentucky where they have been stationed since January.
The troops arrived in a school bus and a van from the battalion headquarters in Gray. As the convoy carrying them arrived in Elizabethton, they were met by an escort of local law enforcement officers who led them through downtown, where citizens lined the streets to welcome the heroes home.
When soldiers arrived at the Elizabethton National Guard Armory, they were met by family members and local officials. After falling into formation, they were dismissed to go inside the armory where a brief ceremony was held to welcome them home and thank them for service to their country.
"Thank you for your sacrifices. We missed you. And thank you for a job well done," said Elizabethton Mayor, Sam LaPorte.
Brad Moffitt, finance director for the city of Elizabethton and a former commander of the 776th himself, also attended the ceremony. "We will be honoring you at the city council meeting this Thursday with a resolution, and you are all invited to attend," Moffitt told the men and women of the unit.
State Representative Jerome Cochran also welcomed troops. "On behalf of Sen. (Rusty) Crowe and myself, we are very proud of them and the sacrifices they made to serve their country," he said, adding that Crowe was unable to attend the ceremony. "They represented Carter County wonderfully. I thank God that they returned home safely."
County Mayor, Dale Fair, stated that the county commission made authentic copies for each member of the unit, complete with the county seal, of the proclamation that was issued by the commission when the 776th was deployed in January. "We will probably do something when the rest of the company returns," he said, referring to the resolution which the city council will issue on Thursday.
Despite fanfare for their return, on the minds of many of the soldiers from the unit was family.
"It's great to be home," said Spc. George Light, adding that he missed his wife, Lisa, and 11-month-old daughter, Kaitlyn, who was only four months old when he left.
Lisa Light said that it will be good having her husband at home again. "It's great, just great. It's overwhelming. I don't know if words can describe it," she said. "He'll be home and get to see his daughter again."
Light said he has several plans now that he is home from the first deployment of his career. First he plans to take time off to be with his family before returning to work as a supervisor at American Water Heater. "I plan on running for county commission in my district," he said.
Being away from family was extremely difficult for many members of the company.
"My wife and I have been married for 32 years, and we've not been separated for more than two weeks at a time in those 32 years," Sfc. Jerry Hinkle said. "I know it must have been hard on all of the wives and families.
"I've been awaiting this day eagerly. I've really missed my family. I don't mind the work, but I have really missed my family."
Approximately 40 members of the company returned home this weekend.
When the time arrived to make a final decision about which soldiers would return home, the company asked for volunteers first, according to Hinkle. "Secondly, they looked at their MOS, their job, and what jobs at this time were less needed than others," he said. "Really, they are just keeping what people are necessary to perform the mission."
In August, sources who wished to remain confidential reported that after the 40 company members returned home in September, the rest of the company would return home in December, with the exception of some troops who would stay at Fort Campbell to help with post support and unit demobilization.