SC National Guardsmen Return After Yearlong Deployment

West Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- Anticipation filled a dark runway as family and friends waited for a moment a year in the making.

"When the plane hit the ground everybody started yelling on the plane. We were just itching to get off the plane," said 1st Lt. John Lester.

"It was intense, it was intense. It makes everything worth it though, you know it give you cold chills," said Capt. Alan Wooten.

Early Sunday morning, just after midnight about 150 South Carolina Army National Guard engineers were reunited with their families and friends.

The 124th engineer company from Saluda spent the last year deployed to Afghanistan.

"This is probably the largest crowd we've ever had out here for a company so it's just amazing to see them coming home," said Maj. Gen. Bob Livingston, South Carolina's Adjutant General.

"It never gets old, but it's always new," said Staff. Sgt. Anna Maria Velasquez of the homecoming. She has been deployed seven times.

Among those waiting were about 20 off-duty members of the Lexington County Fire Service, waiting to welcome home one of their own.

"Show our guy that we're glad to have him back. To support him and his service and what he's done for this country and let him know how much we care about him," said Chief Brad Cox, Lexington County Fire Service.

He said the group had worked for the last couple of weeks to bring three fire apparatuses and a waving American flag to greeted Staff Sgt. Thomas Shepard, who couldn't contain his happiness at the sight.

"It just shows their love. Makes me proud. Those are my boys I'm ready to go hug the rest of them," said Shepard after he ran over to hug his fellow firefighters.

A crowd of family and friend erupted in cheers as their loved ones were finally revealed, but wait still wasn't over. A short ceremony still stood between Specialist Brian Guzman and a face-to-face introduction he has waited for, for six long months.

"I couldn't wait to see him and my two other boys. It's overwhelming right now," said Guzman.

While deployed he couldn't be there in person as his son Tristan entered the world, but thanks to Skype he still got to be a part of the special moment.

"I remember running all the way across base so I could get to an internet connection and last minute caught it just in time so at least I was able to be there a little bit," he said. Now meeting and holding his third son for the first time, he's overjoyed.

"It's so surreal right no," said Guzman. "It almost doesn't feel like it's even happening yet. I'm ready for it to sink in."

This was the second overseas deployment for the unit. They also deployed to Iraq in 2005.


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