Troops finally return to Vidalia

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 9, 2003

Soldiers of the 1086th Transportation Company returned to Vidalia Tuesday, through streets lined with cheering well-wishers, to an armory packed with family and friends.

&uot;It’s fantastic,&uot; was how Harold Gardner of Jonesville described his feelings upon hugging his son, Sgt. Mark Gardner.

&uot;It’s a blessing from God,&uot; Emma Jean Moore of Marion, La., said with conviction about the arrival of her son, Staff Sgt. Prentiss Jackson of Monroe.

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The unit was deployed for duty in Iraq in mid-February and finally returned to the former England Air Force Base in Alexandria Nov. 19.

During that time, the unit provided logistical support in more than 50 missions from the Kuwaiti base throughout Iraq, covering more than 170,000 miles in Iraq itself.

That said, almost all the soldiers said their first order of business &045; especially with Thanksgiving on Thursday &045; will be to relax and to spend as much quality time with loved ones as possible before returning to work.

&uot;It feels great to be back,&uot; Sgt. John Albert of Vidalia said, shaking his head as if he still couldn’t believe he was back home. &uot;Now, I just want to relax and spend time with my family.&uot;

And of course, the soldiers are ready to enjoy some big meals, both home-cooked and at their favorite restaurants.

&uot;Mine wants steak with gravy,&uot; Linda Tarver &045; mother of Thomas Tarver of Vidalia, a soldier with the 1086th &045; said with a laugh.

Soldiers who came home early due to everything from injuries to family emergencies sported big smiles upon seeing the bus pull up to the armory with their fellow unit members.

&uot;Nobody expected them to come home this soon &045; we were looking at the long term,&uot; said Sgt. Patrick Mallory, who returned when he was shot in the hand. &uot;So this is terrific.&uot;

Col. Mike Borrel, project officer for the homecoming celebration, said the entire community should be proud of the way the soldiers did their jobs.

&uot;You come from all walks of life,&uot; Borrel said. &uot;Yet you came together in time of need to serve your country well.&uot;

Ferriday Mayor Glen McGlothin, as well as others who spoke at Tuesday’s brief ceremony at the armory, congratulated the 1086’s Family Readiness Group and others who organized the welcome home events.

&uot;I’m a Vietnam vet myself, and when I came home in ’69, there was none of this going on, so I’m proud to see it going on now,&uot; McGlothin said.

Others reflected on the protection God gave the soldiers while in Iraq.

&uot;Seeing you stand here, I know that God answers prayer,&uot; said Arthur Bates of American Legion Post 590.

&uot;Anybody who doesn’t believe in prayer, look around this room,&uot; said Concordia Parish Sheriff Randy Maxwell, adding that the community must continue to pray for soldiers still in Iraq.